Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hunger 12/18

Training is over and the real Peace Corps experience started Monday. You always hear about how much of the world lives under a dollar a day and world hunger, but rather than just hearing about it I’m not far removed from it in my new home at all. The hungry are my neighbors and I can’t turn off the TV or radio and tune out the stories because for the next two years Abby and I are living amongst it. Yes, I realize how different that is than actually living it and we’ll probably never know how it feels when you don’t know how long it’ll be until you can afford your next meal. It’s tough coming face-to-face with hunger as a harsh reality for many in this world. In the past three days Abby and I have encountered many difficult situations with no easy answers.

The very first person I saw when we got dropped off at our new house was a 7-year old boy wearing a UNC fleece vest with pictures of the Old Well, Ramses, and a tarheel. First thoughts, heartwarming and comforting, right? Only it turns out that the little boy has stood outside our house everyday since we arrived in that same UNC vest holding his hands out under our gate begging for money. Second thoughts, this is a hard life and the answer isn’t just to give him money because then we are just seen as money bags and two years down the road when we’re gone that does nothing constructive for anybody.

The neighbors across the street came over the first day when it was pouring rain and asked to borrow a water jug. We gave them one and they returned it full as a gift saying they’d be willing to cart water for us. They did some work for the last PC Volunteers too, so we’ve hired them to help us with water on a weekly basis. Our main helper is a 12-year old girl named Angel who seems like a sweetheart and eager worker. In one of our first chats she brought up how she didn’t have enough food in the house so if we ever had anything extra could we give it to her. She lost her father six years ago so now her moth is the sole supporter of the 10 children. Abby and I definitely want to help her out, but will have to be careful about the way we go about it. We are trying to be firm and fair; to establish the work, a reasonable rate, and pay her when she finishes the job. No lending and no elaborate giving up front because that only exacerbates the problem. On a different note, we are looking forward to getting to know her and going to do a language exchange. She is going to help us with the local Bantu language while we teach her English.

When Abby and I were discussing our first day of work in conjunction with coming face-to-face with hunger, she spoke of her house call to a 12-year old boy who is in the advanced stages of HIV. When they arrived at his house, she found him covered in scabs and emaciated. Her job was to escort him to the hospital to pick up his monthly ARV medication because his mom is neither able to get his meds nor feed him properly. The situation looks bleak because he is losing weight more rapidly every month. This little boy contracted HIV a few years back when getting a blood transfusion from a sudden illness in South Africa. So all in all a sad day. But we can’t give up hope.

I had an experience on the other end of the spectrum. Since we arrived in Mozambique people have been feeding us way too much, which is such a paradox in this place most don’t have enough. The first day of work we had this marathon meeting with our financers and lunch was served afterwards. I was served first along with the most respected older men because the fact of life is I’m a white foreigner. It really is a nice gesture, however sometimes I struggle with feeling undeserving of this honor. I was literally served half of a chicken with fixings although I was still full from a previous snack. My dilemma was this: I had to eat enough not to offend them even though my appetite was still recovering from food poisoning. Most of my company was putting away ½ a chicken in no time, especially because most of them were HIV+. A common side effect of ARV treatment is that it makes you hungry all the time. When I could eat no more, I politely thanked them for the delicious food saying I was too full to eat the rest. My leftovers immediately went to someone else, which is something you grow accustomed to here. These experiences are giving me a whole new perspective on what a blessing it is that we always have access to food.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Mad Hunt for the Costureiro 12/14/08

A tale co-written by Gracey Uffman and Emily Fogg, Health Volunteers

Since training is coming to a close, we’ve needed both something to occupy our time and something to have control over (because 10 weeks ago we gave over the rights to our bodies –no control over food, over bathing schedules, over clean feet, you get the picture). Needless to say, we’ve been on a few runs lately, the last of which we thought you’d enjoy.

It all started when it was time to get gifts for our mothers. A popular gift idea is to get matching dresses made for you and your mae. You can do this by going to a costureiro (a tailor—read: a man with a sewing machine that sits on someone else’s front porch). It’s a fairly easy process: you pick out a capulana, take it to the costureiro along with a sketch of what you’d like made, get a few simple measurements, and for approximately $2USD you have a new outfit that can only be described using the phrase chique de doer, (so hot it hurts).

It just so happens that the costureiro we picked out was a little less-than-reliable (or as one mae put it “he makes really nice clothes, but he also likes to drink a lot.”) We tried not to let this information phase us and we were both excited to have matching outfits with our maes for our big going away festa so we decided to hope for the best. The first warning sign came when Emily’s dress took a week longer than originally planned. Gracey’s dress was supposed to be finished a week before the big day. Starting Friday, December 5th and every day for an entire week, Gracey (often accompanied by Emily) made the long trek up the hill from the bairro to check on the progress of her dresses. For two days, Gracey was assured and reassured that the dresses would be done in plenty of time for the party. Starting on the third day, our good friend the costureiro went M.I.A. Being the faithful person that she is, Gracey did not give up hope. Every time Gracey stopped by the pink stucco costureiro-less porch, her face fell. Finally on Thursday, after one last attempt to buscar the costureiro, she decided her fate was sealed: no pretty party dress for the pretty southern belle. When we told our sob story to a man on the pink porch he sympathized and gave us “directions” to the costureiro’s house, which was rumored to be at the edge of town near the infamous waterfall. We left crestfallen, with only the knowledge that here in Mozambique they actually use the word alfaiato instead of costureiro.

The party came and went, Gracey envious of Emily and Mama Helena’s new chique-de-doer summer fashions. Things had gotten down to the wire as this was our last weekend in Namaacha, so on Sunday morning we decided to take matters into our own hands and make a house call to our friend the costureiro. When we got to the road leading to the waterfall, we asked two little boys if they knew the Alfaiato Silva and were greeted with blank stares. Great. Encouraging start. Continuing on, we encountered an elderly woman tilling her plot of land. Again we asked about the Alfaiato Silva, and this time there was a look of recognition and a flurry of Changana, the local dialect. Smiling and nodding and taking note of her gestures toward the bend in the road although we understood next-to-nothing, we responded with “Kanimambo!” and headed on our way. Luckily we ran into two more groups of people who pointed us in the same direction, and finally arrived at…the wrong house. But in keeping with the theme, the friendly residents of the house hailed a group of four relatively-sketchy-looking young men (banditos?) to accompany us to the Casa de Silva. We twisted, we turned, we traversed, we conversed and at last arrived to find Alfiato Silva gathering his many capulanas and packing up his sewing machine to go to work. When we graced him with our 8 am Sunday morning house call, Alfiato Silva nonchalantly mentioned he was on his way to work and he was going to finish her dress that very day. What we wanted to ask is where have you been the last week and weren’t you supposed to finish that a long time ago, but instead we smiled politely and said, “See you at noon.” We ran home, mission accomplished, our faith rekindled.

Our friend sent Gracey a message informing her that Alfaiato Silva had lost her measurements, but that he could start and finish her dresses that same day. Another trek up the hill, and Gracey found out that he was robbed, her capulanas were stolen, and that was his reason for being M.I.A. for a week. Although unfortunately there are people who do bad things like rob in every community, there are plenty of good people here in Namaacha like our costereiro friend (not a saint by any means but mostly honest fella) who bought Gracey replacement capulanas and true to his words finished her dresses. This story has a good ending…we ended up happy, well-dressed, and according to our neighbors chique de matar (dressed to kill)!

P.S. Our food for thought was cooked guinea pig, a gift from our neighbor, which we indulged in for our pre-writing snack. Mmm mmm…delish.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Steamy summer nights in Dec 12/11

It’s week 10 of training and we are approaching Christmas. Most of you are probably driving around listening to Christmas songs on the radio (either by choice or because you can’t escape them after Thanksgiving), heat blasting, and bundled in heavy coats. And on any normal year I, too, would be. I would be checking out who has the best Christmas lights in the neighborhood and running around getting last minute gifts. But this year all that is far away. Instead I spent nights with my new family, the Macamos, and although it is different and crazy, it too has become comfortable. It’s crazy to me how my life in Moz is simultaneously so different and parallel from my usual life.

The last week I have played card games with my siblings hours on end on a straw mat under the starts because the house has been unbearably hot. Largely because I taught them all my favorite card games, it has been an enjoyable way to pass the time and reminds me of all the years playing cards with my cousins on our annual family beach trip. Two nights ago, Farida and I played a marathon tournament of the card game Speed that lasted late into the night. We had a country music playlist playing on my laptop, and I felt at home like it easily could have been my sister Molly. I treated her like I’d treat Molly too. Not going easy on her, until she earned a true victory. And when she finally did, man did she celebrate!

Tonight Mama Adelia sent me to go with my 6 year old brother Alberto to buy fresh bread for dinner. We set out down the mountain under the moonlight. I had just bathed so was in my nightgown wrapped in a capulana (equal to a wrap skirt). Alberto had fallen earlier and his leg was bothering him more than I realized so I ended up giving him a piggy-back ride in my nightgown on this dirt path only using moonlights as a guide to buy bread. I laughed to myself at the absurdity of the situation as I carted him and the bread up to our home passing a house blaring James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful.” The moment really was beautiful, surreal, and hilarious. (I felt far removed from the normal Christmas bustle and winter weather, but there is no escaping American tunes).

I officially considered Farida as a blood sister when she borrowed my shoes and came out to dinner one night all dolled up in my make-up. We were hanging out in my room and when I left shed curiously experimented with my make-up without my permission. Classic 13 year old move. That was me then, and that’s my sisters Sarah and Molly for you now. I truly have acquired a new set of siblings in Moz that I’m going to miss when I leave this weekend.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Western Influence in Mozamibque -- The Good, the Bad, and the Funny 12/5

The Good:
To be honest, when the idea started formulating in my mind about Western influences in Moz, I already knew what I thought was bad and funny, but it was a lot harder to pinpoint something good. This leads me to question if it is human nature that causes me to easily criticize or are there really few positive Western influences in Mozambique? My conclusion to my first inquiry is yes, it is often easier to see what’s wrong with the picture than to concentrate on what’s right and good (so important to do)! So I challenged myself to find positive ways we influence Africa. I started small and recalled the AIDs activist who mobilized her community members to get tested for HIV after being encouraged and supported by her American teacher when she had been feeling sick. But it gets complicated when you think big. Yes, we donate a lot of financial resources to this area of the world – think of PEPFAR, the UN organizations, and heavy presence of INGOS doing development work to name a few. Although the donations themselves are not inherently bad (I’d like to think good), it is what is done with the money that determines if it positively affects the people. Very tricky and often not black and white.

I think donating resources to help in Africa is overall good because what if we did nothing? Many people in Africa do not have access to resources on their own to help themselves. For whatever reason many of us in the West were blessed with our resources and I consider it our duty to share and help build capacity in communities here so they can better help themselves.

How can we do more to benefit the greater good with our educations and resources? Although I think there exist many approaches to this question, Peace Corps provides a good starting strategy. Think globally. Act locally. It is necessary to assess the actual needs of the community you are helping and involve them rather than just doing what you think they need in order to bring “good.”

Today I learned of a concrete example of a good Western influence in Moz. USAID is funding Moz’s very own soap opera, which is going to focus on health issues like HIV and AIDs, and promote positive messages generally.

Soap opera = big deal = national pride = healthier nation

Now to explain this idealistic equation I constructed. Mozambicans religiously watch Brazilian soap operas. All ages pack into a TV room with eyes glued to the TV to watch less-than-stellar plots play out – vampires, violence, hyper-sexed, love triangles, you name it. Pure junk. Many a day I have been completely ignored, albeit unintentionally, while trying to speak Portuguese at the dinner table because everyone was entranced by the Brazilian version of “Days of our Lives.” (On the other hand, I’ve mastered tuning it out because I can’t take it).

Another thing the Mozambicans I’ve met have no shortage of is national pride. They’re always belting the national anthem, boasting about their political party (FRELIMO), and generally ready to rally for a cause. Give them their own soap opera primetime with Mozambicans actors and I bet it’ll spread like wildfire. It promises to be effective and a brilliant idea, if done well. Hopefully some of these positive messages resonate with the viewers to transform Moz into a healthier society.

The Bad

About twice a month I go to Maputo, the capital, with other PCV to run errands and just to escape training for a day. You have to know that in Moz we are entering the scorching summer months so Dec here has a very different feel from the cold, cozy up by a fire, drink apple cider, and sing Christmas carols kinda-feel. If not for the random Christmas songs that play when my Ipod is on shuffle, I might never have remembered in my tropical paradise. That is, until we showed up in Maputo where all the story had painted flashy sings in the window reading “Merry Christmas! Buy the perfect holiday gift inside.” I sighed thinking how impossible it is to escape our materialistic culture.

It only got worse entering the new Maputo shopping center, a building modeled after our malls. The mall welcomed us and other shoppers with Christmas trees, garland, pretty red bows, and believe it, motorized dancing Caucasian Santas. Utterly inescapable. Our consumer culture that convinces us that we need to buy everything penetrates far and wide. Today I stared it in the face in a country where many people do not even know where money for their next meal will come from, where the literacy rate is low because children do not have money for textbooks, and the unemployment rate is high. In spite of all this, the message still rings clear to BUY BUY BUY.

Leave it to Western influence to blur the lines between needs and luxuries. Here women often engage in transactional sex as payment to get what they want because they have no money. Sometimes women do this out of necessity but it is becoming common for young girls to perform transactional sex as a way to obtain nice clothes, cell phones, and other bling. The fact that marketers only contribute to this mentality that nice things make people happy is shameful. It would do us all good to spend more time thinking of our agenda and who it is affecting, and how it is helping/hurting others.

The Funny

Moz imports much of its clothing secondhand from the US. A lot of clothing might be that old hot pink sweatsuit you donated to Salvation Army, a retro button-up from the 70s, or the “Carolina Girls…Best in the World” t-shirt I bought in a clothing market in Sofala (after taking a plane, a ferry, a bike taxi, and getting a ride in an 18-wheeeler truck to arrive. Final destination was a peace of home and a warm fuzzy feeling in my heart for UNC). Sorry to get off track, but the point is often Mozambicans wear t-shirts with the most ridiculous English phrases oblivious to the meaning, which are my pick-me-ups and saving grace on bad days.

A small sampling reads as follows:
- What would Chuck Norris do?
- Little Winky wants to buy you a drinky!
- Lip gloss…is the law!
- I’m the hottest thing under the sun!
- I love vodka! (worn by small child)
- It’s a blonde thing! (worn by older gentleman)
- Cutie (glittery letters, hearts all over the place, owner: teenage boy)