Saturday, November 29, 2008

Pictures (10/30 - 11/29)

Standing outside my house in Namaacha with host family
Take your mae to the bar outing...
Cultural exchange - performing traditional Inhambane dance

At a wedding carrying my host sister Marisa

In Their Own Words (11/29)

Some of the most interesting conversations I’ve had with my host parents have come up naturally and without my prompting. I always learned in my international studies classes how low education levels and high birthrates are two great challenges affronting Africa. Consequently, I was taken aback when my host parents broached these subjects with me directly.

Mama Adelia and Papa Isaias fell in love when she was 16 and he was 25 years old. One year later they had their first kid, and then four more subsequently. From what I have observed, the couple has a great relationship and are made for one another. However, they have both told me numerous times that they dropped out of school as soon as they fell in love, and the baby sealed this fate. Their studies terminated before finishing high school.

Papa Isaias told me how he went back to finish high school at night school, which is offered as an option throughout the country for adults. This was a courageous and dedicated effort in my opinion. Papa Isaias went on to describe his dream as going to college to be a lawyer. An intelligent man, he used to do well in school. Although the burden (and blessing) of taking care of a family has put his goal on indefinite hold, he hopes to return to school one day.

Mama Adelia was looking at my pictures from home and asking what age we fell in love in the US. I chuckled, saying that it depends, elaborating that it could be in high school, college, much later, or earlier. Mama Adelia replies, “That’s good because over there you can fall in love, but it does not mean you have to stop school and have babies right away. Here that is what happens”. She added, “Because if you do drop out, your kids often suffer because you are not ready to support them.” That said, at the dinner table we regularly have conversations with their children who they are coaching with these lessons learnt from their own lives. My host parents encourage their children to finish school so they have more options.

Mama Adelia and I also talked about family planning and about how often people here have more children than they can support/feed. For Mama Adelia, five children is enough and she wants no more because she thinks it is the parents’ responsibility to be able to care well for the children. Women in her community are becoming familiar with family planning options and birth control pills are available for free at the local hospital. Most women I have spoken with are very receptive to family planning and commented they only wished they learned about it earlier (say before kid 7).

My host family and I always dream that my host sister Farida will be able to come study in the US and live with me for a time. It’s a long way off, she’ll have to study hard and work for this desired goal, but I know she is capable, and someone told me long ago always to reach for the stars… It is my belief Farida will get there and that my host family is raising exceptional children.

I came across this philosophy on the important of teaching and I think it is a good way to look at it no matter whom or where you are teaching. Although it more directly applies to the teaching I will be doing in the Peace Corps, it can be applied more generally with parenting, when working with youth, and for the greater good.

Remember: Teaching is not a selfless act. It is insurance, survival. It is a means for turning something temporary into long-lasting. Through teaching, a workshop or project can evolve into a permanent program or organization that continues to have a positive impact long into the future.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

11/27 Thanksgiving Revelation

This week summer has hit full force in Namaacha meaning the sun pounds and the temperatures climb to around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The hot weather, side effects from the malaria meds, and the anxiousness we are feeling to get to our sites has proved a combination for crappy sleep for some of us. Despite the unpleasant weather, restless night, and the fact I was separated during the holidays from my family, I got up on Thanksgiving and decided it was going to be a good day. The day did pass well, but the events of the last 8 weeks have left me physically, emotionally, and mentally drained at points.

Although my room has been a welcome respite in the evenings for me time, it has become unbearably hot and so I forced myself to sit outside with my mom and friends who were chatting away in the local dialect. I settled in the corner eager to take advantage of the evening breeze and enjoy the bright start, absentmindedly strumming away on my guitar to distract myself.

I would describe myself as someone who doesn’t mind being the center of attention, but my best friends would take it a step further and say I love it. However, I like to be alone and play privately when it comes to musical instruments and singing because I’m not particularly comfortable or good at either. (The guitar is still new to me and singing is not my gift). Anyway, I looked up after 15 minutes of strumming to find myself staring into the faces of 10 kids who were just sitting quietly, intently listening, mesmerized by this novelty. I decided to play on, marveling that so many kids wanted to listen because I can assure you I was not playing anything complicated or trying to entertain.

Two main things were going through my mind. Gratefulness for their unassuming company on this warm Thanksgiving night so far from my family is one thing I felt. I also felt astonished by the power of music as a universal language and so I formulated a plan. My future roommate, Abby, is gifted and trained in almost every area I am not, and we have already partnered up during training to complement one another repeatedly. Music is her specialty and she has proved an adept choreographer and song leader. My idea is to create songs with positive messages to sing with the endless slew of kids I hear will await us at our new house. What a good way to pool together our strengths together, enjoyable way to pass the nights, and opportunity to teach these kids in a creative away. My favorite realization is how much is gained when you collaborate because it pushes you to do things you never thought you were capable of, and how many hidden gifts we all have. My challenge would be to find yours.

Monday, November 24, 2008

11/24 Some things to get used to…

*When men come to our house to visit with Papa Isaias, they first ask my name and the second question is do I want to marry them. Although they are mostly joking, the age difference or number of wives they already have doesn’t matter much. You quickly learn to say you have a serious boyfriend at home and a ring practically on your finger, even if it isn’t the real truth. The best way to handle this in my experience is to have a balance of being firm with them and laughing it off.
*Moms sometimes nurse babies that aren’t their own. My Mama Adelia’s youngest is 2 ½ years old, but when she is watching her 1-month old goddaughter she breastfeeds her too. It is culturally acceptable here, but a new concept for me.
*How mating season never ends! We rarely walk to school with seeing a rooster or male ducks “conquesting” females loudly, or without tripping over baby piglets, kittens, and puppies roaming the dirt paths as evidence.
*The way Mozambicans treasure even simple gifts and compliments. My family has admired every photo I have developed for them whole-heartedly and anytime you compliment a local they visibly beam. Although this is kinda universal, I think we are more numb to gifts and compliments often in our American culture because we have so many materials. It reminds me that even simple gifts should be valued.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

11/22 Carting Water – Part Dois

When I returned one afternoon, Farida asked if I would go with her to fetch water. Although I really wanted to go curl up in bed and read, I obliged grudgingly. Last time I accompanied her to cart water, we walked over a mile up and down the mountainous terrain. When she asked me this time if I wanted to carry 20 liters of water on my head I almost laughed in her face. Instead, I chose to politely refuse and proposed I start with something smaller.

I was playing out possible scenarios in my head of me balancing a 20 liter jug on my head. Scenario 1, being most likely, is that I would break my neck. Scenario 2, a given, is that I would end up spilling the water and it would be a lost cause. Scenario 3, also a guarantee, is that locals would laugh hysterically as I passed by shouting mulungo (white person in the local dialect) at me. After giving Farida my explanations, she saw my point and gave me a small bucket (probably 3 liters). It looked pathetic next to her 20L jug. Perfect for me, I know my limits!

So we set off down the mountain and reached a valley where a natural stream usually ran. Due to the drought the stream was just a few scattered puddles. The sight before my eyes was as new to me as I was to them. There were about 25 people lined up using small water buckets to gather puddle water for bathing, cooking, and cleaning. The scene felt a bit Jungle Book to me – barefoot kids gathering water, goats grazing, and only the local dialect being spoken at the watering hole.

Farida ordered me to sit on a rock while she and her friends entered the woods just beyond the “stream” (rain puddles) to wait because she was going in deeper for cleaner water. And heaven forbid I follow her because there were snakes, sticky bushes, and assorted bugs in these parts! She had to tell me twice to wait because I was anxious to go with her so I wouldn’t feel out of place with 20 sets of eyes on me. However, she was firm so I settled on my rock as she disappeared. I thought it would be 10 minutes or less, but after 30 minutes she emerged with water. This gave me plenty of time to observe and meditate, and reflect on what a precious resource water is. I thought back to how many water bottles I have bought and left somewhere carelessly unfinished. I did not give a second thought to water coming out of faucets in the States, but after seeing my family spend up to 4 hours a day fetching water for us I feel a whole new appreciation for this luxury. I began to think of how many countries are presently fighting over water rights and it makes me wonder if what they say has any truth -- will the next world war be fought because of lack of water? Thankfully, Farida returned before I had too much time to work myself into a grand worry…and playtime started back.

Although I avoided Scenarios 1 and 2, Scenario 3 turned into a reality. The site of me carrying a small water jug on my head using my hands as balance at age 22 contrasted with 13-year old Farida’s elegant ability to balance a 20L jug on her head was more than the neighborhood could take. No one got a bigger kick out of it than my host family who said I should use my water to bathe. Sadly it was only enough for about a third of my bath water, which makes me eternally grateful for how much work my family has done to provide water for me to bathe twice a day. We took a picture to keep this fun memory alive forever (and hopefully it’ll grace my blog sooner rather than later)!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

How to subscribe so that Gracey's posts are emailed to you....

Some have emailed me to ask how to subscribe to Gracey's blog, as many have, so that her new posts are delivered to your email. It's simple. Attached is a picture of where to subscribe. On the right side of the blog, it says "subscribe via email." Simply input your email in there and click "Subscribe." That's all there is to it.....


Monday, November 17, 2008

The Tickle Monster Reincarnated 11/17

This vignette will be most truly appreciated by the very people I usually take on this role with…my little sisters Kristi, Sarah, and Molly, alternately known as my favorite victims. I really enjoy the company of my host sisters and am comfortable enough now with Farida (13) and Maria (11) to mess with them and play annoy them in that way only your siblings can. Last night I had loads of energy stored up after weeks of not running, so I playfully poked my sisters in the ribs a few times. BAD IDEA because after that it didn’t take them long to discover my greatest secret…how ticklish I am. As rain pounded on our tin roof, they chased me around our small house tickling me as I scrambled to take refuge anywhere and everywhere. All 3 of us laughed until we had tears in our eyes. The tag team of Farida and Maria have become my latest tickle monster, a rival to my childhood tickle monster (that terror I will call Keith). I guess that’s what I get for starting “trouble” with my sisters, but on any given day I am happy to be tickled by them because laughter really is the best remedy for any wave of homesickness I feel.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Mother/Daughter Outing – Take Your Mae to the Bar Day (11/15)

All the PC volunteers in my neighborhood brainstormed and decided we should take our host mothers out for a drink at the bar to hang out, have a good time, and thank them for how hard they have worked to take care of us. At about 4 pm on Saturday, 10 of us set out, 5 mother/daughter pairs. This was a special occasion because the maes rarely have the chance to take off from their houses and have a girls night because they normally stay busy with cooking and cleaning. (Far from our independent, empowered idea of women in the US; no Sex and the City circumstances exist in Mozambique). Our maes were in good moods and grabbed our hands racing each other to the bar; their joy was infectious. We treated our maes to drinks (alcoholic or non-alcoholic, whatever they were comfortable with) and toasted to the great mothers they have been to us. The maes then delivered return speeches of appreciation thanking us for living with them and for our respect and kindness. Our glasses clinked to symbolize the bonding. For the evening we danced, laughed, joked, and have a bunch of great, ridiculous photos to show for it (which I will upload as proof eventually)! As a joke, they literally picked us up and carried us out of the bar….

Finally we walked back under the moonlight, our maes holding our hands, and they began to sing a song they made up:

Estamos contentas
Obrigada o Corpo da Paz
Para da-nos filhas

We are happy
Thank you Peace Corps
For giving us daughters

Everyone was smiling and I thought how enriched my life has been through cultural exchange. How I have learned all the similarities I share with my brothers and sisters around the world, how much we stand to gain from loving one another, and how much fun it is to experience this in action.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Snapshot of My Daily Life (11/14)

I was running late on my way back to school after lunch – no big surprise to those familiar with “Gracey time.” My friend Emily was waiting at her house nearby for me to swing by so we could walk together. It had been pouring because rainy season started so mud was everywhere. My sandals I left at the door accumulated a lot of mood so before I had a chance to rush out the door Mama Adelia captured them to scrub them clean and held me hostage washing my feet until she was satisfied that they were spotless. Naturally, Emily got curious as to my whereabouts so had decided to come find me. She held in laughter when she came up the path to discover me standing in a bucket while Mama Adelia scrubbed my feet furiously. (Clarification: I always wash my feet first by myself, but it never passes her inspection and so I learned it’s just easier to embrace the inevitable).

Little did I know that was only Obstacle One to overcome on my way to school. Obstacle Two came in the form of a screaming band of neighborhood kids. As I’ve mentioned before, little kids love to scream mulongo, meaning white person in the local language, and grab your hands as you walk by. Although we often find this adorable, lately a few of the kids have turned it into a contest to see who can grab our hands first and sometimes you have 6 kids pulling at your hands at once. Kids will be kids, so who can blame them? A group of 8 year old boys were super rowdy that day and it was practically impossible to shake them off. We did prevail eventually and arrived at school, a little late albeit with feet freshly covered in mud from the hike and with a trail of children. And scene…

Daria’s Story
Although I have a long way to go before integrating in the community, I have started making friends. Daria came over to paint my toenails the other day. While sitting under the mango tree on the esteira mat, she asked that I always remember her. What I know of Daria’s story is this: she is 25 years old, has 6-year old twin boys, is already widowed, and works all the time to make ends meet. Daria insisted I walk her home so I could see her house. Daria talked of big plans for her house, but all she had to show for it was an unfinished frame with a couple of rooms completed. The rest of the house followed the same pattern; she had a bunch of unfinished aspirations. For example, Daria had some wiring set up for electricity but not enough money to complete or pay for it. Daria had a makeshift kitchen, but many of the plates were broken and the sparse furniture had seen better days. Daria had plans to buy a bed to sleep in, but for now slept on a straw mat with her two sons. She was obviously excited to have company and got out her English book from grade school so we could practice.

Daria is right to be proud of her house and hard work, especially given all the difficult circumstances she had made it through. But Daria seemed a bit sad and lonely. I do not pity her because she is a working woman and has two beautiful, healthy sons. Her story does concern me though because many girls lack choices and options. Females in Mozambique are hindered by gender discrimination, poverty, poor nutrition, and health care. Often they become mothers early or are denied education.

When Daria invited me into her home, my mind wandered to all the things I take for granted like a bed, new clothes, clean water, and for my many privileges like the opportunity to go to college, etc. It reinforced how rare my lifestyle is in the US. For the remainder of my time in Namaacha, I hope to spend some more time with Daria. I also hope she gets to finish that house she dreams about. The question left in my head is how to help the many women in Daria’s situation help themselves best?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

11/12 Visit to GATV (Local HIV Testing Center)

Every morning I have 2-hour language classes with my group of 4 other PC Volunteers and then were are supposed to use another 2 hours to apply that language. Today we decided to go the HIV testing center, called the GATV, to get tested ourselves. We figured if we are going to be urging our communities to get tested we better practice what we preach and be able to provide the reassurance we had done it. The 5 of us trudged to the GATV, located at the back of the hospital so that people could utilize it without drawing much attention. The stigma surrounding HIV is a big reason people are hesitant to get tested.

On our way to get tested the 5 of us discussed how we felt a little nervous, although the likelihood any of were HIV+ was slim to none. (Especially given the fact that in the past year we had all tested negative in order to join the Peace Corps, the HIV and AIDs prevalence in the US is much lower than in Africa and mainly confined to high risk populations such as gay men and sex workers, rather than affecting the general population like in Moz).

The Mary Helen in me was anxious about pricking my finger, but it helped going with my friends and joking about our reservations. We talked at length with the HIV counselors and decided to administer our own tests. It was a simple test. You pricked your finger, squeezed a drop of blood onto paper, and then put one drop of solution on it. Your blood and the solution ran up the paper and the results were the following. One red line meant negative, and two red lines meant positive. We waited the 10 minutes together for our results, and although expected, the negative results were relieved to be 100% sure.

I learned two important things today. To administer 100 HIV tests in Africa of this type costs less than $115 – so roughly just over a dollar a test. That’s nothing, and it is so important that people get tested because many HIV+ people are unaware of their status. This not only negatively affects their health, but affects others. Denial and not knowing only serves to propagate this epidemic.

The other lesson learned was how much courage it must take to get tested. All of the PC Volunteers agreed that we were nervous until the test proved for certain we were HIV negative. What we felt is probably just a fraction of what someone who has had unprotected sex lately, or who has a sick husband or wife with HIV, or even lives in a community where the HIV and AIDs prevalence rates are high. For reference, Namaacha, the border town where I’m currently living is over 20% HIV+. It will be challenging to get people to be tested, but having been through it, volunteering to go with your friend to get tested, and even being re-tested yourself with them are strategies I plan to employ to give courage to the community with whom I work.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

11/11 My First Mozambican Birthday Party

I came upon my first Mozambican birthday party by surprise. My friend Emily had baked a cake from scratch for her host mom’s birthday the week before so when my host family got wind of her delicious cake, they decided I, too, should be Betty Crocker. Emily and I spent all of Sunday afternoon, literally hours, baking the cake because there is no easy bake oven available. Cooking here requires more time and creativity. It was a perfect Sunday afternoon in Africa because I felt no pressure to be doing anything else or the time constraints I’m so accustomed to in the States (I decided this is one of the positives to extreme geographic isolation).

Anyway, my family began inviting all the neighbors over and preparing more food than usual for dinner and I realized this was turning into a full-blown birthday party. That’s when I started praying my cake would turn out well! My sister Maria who was turning 11 emerged in her best white lace dress and water shoes (fashion sense is another reason I love Africa, ha) shortly before party time. All the neighbors gathered and we sang “Happy Birthday.” What I had yet to find out was how ceremonious birthday parties are. Since I made the cake, apparently I was expected to give a speech honoring the birthday girl. Caught off guard, I managed to mumble something in Portuguese to Maria about hope you have a good year, a long life, and all that jazz (I’d say equivalent to a bad wedding toast, and aren’t we all too familiar with those?). My parents followed with much more eloquent speeches.

Not only does the birthday girl get the first bite of cake, but I got to feed it to her at the same time she fed me cake. Straight wedding style again. After the food, dancing followed, which is both a daily occurrence and a common theme in my blog because it’s so central to their culture. And for this reason, I think they sent me to the right place!

Monday, November 10, 2008


I've just posted about three weeks of missives from Gracey. I'm sure you will enjoy reading them as much as I have. You'll note that a recurring theme in these posts is HIV/AIDS. She also mentions the theme of myths that compound the problem.

I have posted a spreadsheet I prepared for a project I did on the Church and HIV/AIDs in Africa. You can view it here. The data is a bit old but astonishing. It is very difficult for us North Americans to comprehend a world in which more than a third of the young adult population is wiped out and in which the average life expectancy is in the late 30s. But that has been the reality for more than ten years for some of the sub-Saharan countries.

Some of my African friends who are Anglican priests in Zambia, South Africa, Kenya, and Tanzania report that the lethal combination of war and HIV/AIDS is radically changing cultural norms. The number of marriageable males is so low in some areas and the death rate for both sexes is so high that females are organizing society the way it was done among the natives of North America centered in the great Mississippian culture a thousand years ago: they are shifting to a matriarchal culture (in those areas most affected) in which women exercise authority over most aspect of life (other than war-making) and every woman is an aunt to every child.

These colleagues report that Saturday is "funeral day." One friend reports that he regularly conducts five funerals a day.

Such is the effect of HIV/AIDS, and why we can expect to hear much more about it as Gracey's ministry there continues.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

11/9 Oh The Places You’ll Go!

While weaving through outhouses and dodging chickens, goats, roosters, and turkeys along the path at 7 am this morning, I passed a house blaring the rap song, “Get Low.” Only fitting that the finest American rap music would make its way to the mountains of Africa. Less than a year ago, I was learning a dance to “Get Low” in the Alpha Chi Omega house, never in a million years thinking I would be living in Mozambique as a PC Volunteer in the near future.

For a high school graduation gift a best friend’s mom gave me the Dr. Seuss book entitled, Oh, The Places You’ll Go! And if you let it, I am finding life can take you to places you never dreamed you’d go with the most fascinating, worthwhile experiences….Mrs. Gullick deserves a thank you for planting that message in my mind for then I had no clue the meaning it would take.

Friday, November 7, 2008

11/7 - Peace Corps Family

This week was difficult because it is the halfway point in training. The days drain you because you wake up at dawn to learn Portuguese and sometimes battle heat, homesickness, and everything new. I have been here over a month and still have three more weeks until I know where I will live for the next 2 years. Naturally frustrating. As PC trainees, sometimes it feels like you are juggling a lot. On Tuesday when I woke up without energy, I shrugged it off and chugged along until about dinnertime when I retired to my room early feeling sick. We had the big halfway test on Thursday and then our much anticipated site visit – and so I was refusing to get sick! Until of course I threw up the next three days straight.

At points the week was miserable, but I have never felt so supported in my life. (This is fantasy land during training and it will be different when I’m a volunteer without the luxury of 56 other PC volunteers as neighbors). The first day I was sick I had about 10 house calls from all 6 volunteers in my neighborhood. This continued all three days parading in with smiles, Sprites, and saltines so I couldn’t help but feel a little better. Text messages came from the Brasilian women I teach English to, from the locals I play basketball with, from volunteers wishing me well. Other host moms and dads dropped by while Mama Adelia and Farida graciously catered to my needs.

Living abroad is sometimes unpleasant away from the comforts of home and there are certain risks and precautions, but for me it’s worth it. And I count this experience for why I’m a believer that you can find family everywhere. For now, Namaacha is not such a bad home away from home.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Visit to Orphanage 11/4

We took a field trip to Casa Dois Gatos, an orphanage housing 140 boys from newborns to early twenties. The boys were orphaned as a result of the HIV and AIDs epidemic and left without any family – meaning not even someone like an uncle or grandmother to take care of them. There are not tons of orphanages in Africa because rather than institutionalize orphans it is preferred to try to provide funds for extended family members to take care of them within the community. This orphanage was all boys because people are more willing to take in girl orphans because they can assist in domestic chores and are not perceived as just another mouth to feed or potential source of trouble.

This particular orphanage is run by Portuguese Catholic missionaries and was founded 17 years ago. Interestingly, it is not funded by the Catholic Church, but solely by private donations. The father and sister who run it are clearly successful at bringing in funds because the facilities were beautiful and well-maintained. There were six houses for the orphans to live in and each housed about 25 boys. Other facilities included a cafeteria, church (that overlooks the mountains, high thatched roof, open-air, gorgeous!), school, library, and washing machines. The library and washing machines serve as indicators that this was an exceptionally well-funded orphanage.

Our tour guide was a handsome 17 year-old boy who was polite, informative, and smiled the entire time. It was hard to believe this smiling boy standing in front of me came to live at this orphanage just four years ago after losing everyone in his family. On the tour we learned that many of the orphans were counseled because they had abandonment and psychological issues.

In spite of this the work the orphanage is doing with the boys is remarkable. A typical day goes something like the following. They wake up at 6 am to shower before eating breakfast. In the morning, they go to school for 4 or 5 hours before lunch. After lunch, they rest, play, and do homework. What was fascinating is that the boys rotated cleaning and helps the chefs in the cafeteria so that they could acquire these domestic skills. There was also a wood workshop where they manufactured desks and actually made all the school furniture. The boys also tended to goats, planted gardens, and picked up trash as a daily activity.

The six houses were divided into age groups: babies to age 4, 5-7, 8-11, 12-13, 14-16, and 17-20. Each house had one adult as supervisor, but each had two boys that served as peer role models and were responsible for the others. (Harry Potter fans, think prefect). For example, our 17-year old tour guide was the boss in the house for boys aged 14 to 16. He mentioned that although it was not always fun, it was important that he was learning responsibility. This is HUGE because one of the factors spurring the HIV and AIDs crisis is that fathers often assume no responsibility for their kids. The orphans at Casa Dois Gatos, the very victims of this fate, were being taught how to break the cycle and take accountability for their actions. As a whole the orphans seemed gracious and obedient. The orphanage also allowed outside children to attend the school for the dual purpose so the boys were not as isolated and to benefit the local community. I could go on, but it was encouraging to see a model orphanage work so well and help so many kids when so often our best intentions fail in development work. It takes a whole lot of hard work, a heck of a lot of resources, and kind heart, but Casa Dois Gatos demonstrates that good worth doing can be accomplished in this world.

Monday, November 3, 2008

11/3 - Being Blunt and Clean on a Whole New Level

Mozambicans will always tell you exactly how it is, sometimes a welcome change from the Southern US where we like to speak in euphemisms. Sometimes their comments might seem caustic or perceived as plain rude in the US. You just cannot take it personally and have to realize most of the time they mean well.

*Every time I wear this particular skirt my Irma Farida and Mama Adelia immediately exclaim I should change because they don’t like it. A few times they have told me I don’t match well. And once Mama Adelia said, “My friends saw you in the street and noticed your feet were dirty. Minha Filha, I can’t be the one with the dirty daughter!” The moms wash all of our flip-flops, tennis shoes, backpacks, etc. regularly/borderline excessively because no one wants to be known as the one with the dirty kid. I’ve never bathed so much, scrubbed my feet so hard – but the truth it is more necessary in these conditions.

*When it rains here, the roads become like muddy rivers. I don’t even like this movie so I can’t believe I’m referencing it, but think chocolate river in Willa Wonka. One rainy day I accumulated about five extra pounds of mud on the soles of my flip-flops which splattered all over the back of my legs. Everyone we passed on the road widened their eyes repeating, “Oh, how dirty you are!” I’m thinking, thanks well-aware. My friend Emily laughed saying I must be a record dirty.

*The attention focused on presentation and cleanliness is huge – your clothes better be ironed and spotless are else Mama Adelia ain’t letting you outta the house!

*One similarity between the Spanish and Mozambican cultures is that if you’re fat, you better count on it being your nickname. My friend Emily says her host mom never even bothers with the actual name of one of our friends preferring to always refer to her as “the large one.” In Namaacha the mothers love to talk about who is engordar-ing. AKA: Who can fatten their kid up first so they can brag about who is feeding their kid well. So they can walk by, poke their neighbor in the ribs, point and say, “My daughter likes my food and it shows, eh?” Four weeks in to our host family stays, two of my best girl friends were told their bellies were growing. Literally translated. My Papa Isaias even told my friend Emily it looked like she had a baby inside and she is far from big. Although that comment would make most of us American girls want to cry, (and Emily went right home to change, ha) it is not considered bad or unattractive here. Large women are strong, healthy, and beautiful. And from what I have seen of the community here, there is some truth in that.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

11/2 Host Family

Since I have been here a month, the dynamic of my relationships with my host family really began to pick up this week. My Portuguese is improving and we’ve had time to get used to another. A few instances stand out in my mind: what they all have in common is either dancing or sense of humor.

• Maria and I were walking to go buy pao (bread) and we got to talking on the way there and back. This in itself is huge because Maria is shy and would not talk to me for the first few weeks, preferring to whisper quietly to her sisters. Some neighbors stopped us on the red dirt path upon our return beckoning me to dance. It’s 6 pm on a Wednesday night in my neighborhood and all the neighborhood kids are standing on front porch (ages 4-16) dancing to hip-hop. Of course I go along with it and the neighbor women are going crazy, nodding their heads muttering, “Sim, ela ja sabe dancar.” (Yea, that girl already knows how to dance). This strategic move of mine was in my best interest because you want to get in close with your neighbors so they look out for you. Maria found my “in” hilarious and the rest of the way home joked comfortably. We passed some young guys catcalling at her, and I automatically launched into big sister mode telling her, “You should know you are pretty, but be careful when boys tell you that because it can get you into trouble.” When we got home, she ran to Farida and I hear her recounting all this advice in Portuguese to Farida. (Since that day, Maria and I have been big buddies and she is always dancing, singing, and joking with me).

• It was 100 degrees outside and I spent the afternoon with friends playing soccer and basketball. I got home as it was getting dark, completely exhausted. Mama Adelia was waiting, urging that I go inside to dance with my “avo.”I peer in an see my grandmother shaking her booty to local Mozambican tunes. She grabs my hands and before I know it I am dancing in the kitchen with this grandmother who only speaks Xangana, the local language, and Marisa, my 2 year old sister. For those 20 minutes I got the biggest kick out of life. And for the record, I hope I am still like that grandmother dancing one day.

• We were eating dinner outside and Farida was flipping through one of my health workbooks reading all these facts about HIV and AIDs, reinforcing which she knew to be true. Beside her is a young girl named Lulu with her two year old daughter. Lulu was just visiting us for the day from Maputo. Farida was reading about condoms and we were discussing how they are important to use if having sex to prevent pregnancy and to prevent spread of STIs. Lulu interjects saying that some condoms have diseases in them so she doesn’t use them, and plus they break easily. I’ll admit, my first thought was not nice. It was an ethnocentric “Yeah clearly, you don’t use them because you’ve already got children and you’re in tenth grade.” Embarrassed and ashamed of my first thought, I pushed it aside and tried to carry and understand rather than judge. So many girls drop out of school early because they get pregnant. It was my first experience trying to dispel the myths we heard many people believe about condoms like that condoms themselves carry HIV. I explained that was false and other reasons why the condoms could be breaking/how to prevent it. From there the conversation turned into an English lesson and the three of us had a good time.