Friday, November 27, 2009

Party Party Party in Chibuto!

When you think of party, what are the first words that come to your mind? Perhaps fun, celebration, good friends, cake, cocktails, dancing, or something of the sort. To me, all those things comprise elements of a good party. Parties are usually something out of the ordinary to look forward to, but I have to admit that I was not excited about putting on the CARE Party because I knew it would be a lot of work and would not involve a lot of those aforementioned words.

Parties are one thing, but party planning is a whole other realm which can be stressful and leave you feeling anxious about whether the party will be a success. Although party planning in the States is serious work, I’m going to say relatively you’ve got it good. Here’s one case in point. For parties in Mozambique, it is customary that all the adults get together and cook a big meal with some type of meat because it’s too expensive for many families to have in their diet often. In the States, the party planners would a) have the food catered, b) buy rotisserie chickens at the Fresh Market, or 3) buy frozen chickens at Super Target and go home and cook them in a nice big kitchen in the oven, but that’s not how it went down in Chibuto!

We were celebrating the end of our 6 week program named CARE, which Abby, our colleagues, and I designed to teach children between aged 7-15 how to care for themselves and their world. 70 orphans and vulnerable children came to participate in the festivities which meant lots of mouths to feed, so obviously cooking was a bit of an ordeal. My co-worker Lidia and I bought everything but the chickens to prep for the party days before, but had to wait until the morning of to buy the live chickens. The day of the party 12 activistas, a group of mostly HIV positive ladies who are leaders in the community and examples for how you can still live a normal life despite having HIV, volunteered to be our kitchen staff and rounded up huge pots, spoons, and plates from all over the neighborhoods. I was in charge of money so I went with 3 co-workers to buy 20 live chickens in the market. On the quarter mile walk there, I started asking how we were going to carry them all. When they told me that each of us were going to carry 5 live chickens at back at once, my eyes got huge, and I told them they had to be kidding. But, I psyched myself up to be a good sport and we entered the smelly market section with hundreds of live chickens. I paid the $4 for each live chicken, and then let my co-workers put 5 upside down squawking chickens in my hand and we were off. I got a lot of looks and smiles from the locals on the way back to the office, and I think I impressed some of the activistas. (No wonder Mozambican ladies are in such good shape – carrying 5 chickens at a time puts any dumbbell arm workout to shame!)

The women spent all morning cooking and singing together as Abby, my co-workers, some teenage children I recruited (I am Mary Helen’s daughter after all), and I led the festivities. In the morning, they were free to run around and we had sidewalk chalk, drawing stations, books for them to read in English, soccer balls, and jump ropes for the children to play with. We started with about 40 city kids, but 25 children arrived singing boisterously in an overloaded pick-up truck, which came into town from the outskirts of the city! It reminded me of so many church events I have gone to over the years – parents organizing food, kids running about having a great time with all their friends – friendly people really coming together as a community to celebrate life.

After all the guests had arrived, we started the activities, which were just basic field day activities from the States that people enjoy worldwide. The sack race was first and hilarious because so many little children jumped right out of their sacks, fell to the ground, or could have out-hopped the Easter Bunny! It was highly competitive because the winning teams got candy and kept rushing Abby, who quickly became the most popular adult at the party. We continued on to balloon relay races and limbo – everyone was smiling and laughing, even me, the girl who had been the stressed party planner.

The activistas kept coming up to Abby and me and telling us how happy they were that their kids were participating in this program, and our co-workers for the week after would not stop talking about it. It really was a wonderful ending to our first year of service, and a reminder that although Abby and I get frustrated and feel like sometimes we are not doing enough or being effective, that our efforts are appreciated and maybe we are making more strides than we think. Abby and I might have been the organizers, but I was also so thankful that the activistas had pulled together a lunch and helped us serve it without chaos (the real miracle) to all 70 children. It could not have been accomplished without them! The CARE Program and ending party formed a good base for the project we are hoping to start next year with some of the activistas, which will be a pre-school in Uahamusa, the community 7 kilometers outside the city. It will take much more work and effort than just a day to get the project off the ground, but our party was a great way to kick it off. Here’s to energy and success in the upcoming year for creating a pre-school to permanently teach children how to care for themselves and their world in the midst of a poverty-stricken town!