Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Vida na Rua

I have had the pleasure of hosting 10 of my family members and friends in Chibuto this year and all of the noted one of their favorite things about being in my town was just sitting in my house or porch and listening to the many surrounding sounds. At any given moment, there will be children banging on their makeshift instruments on the dirt path right outside my front doorstep; roosters crowing at all hours (my dad learned that roosters actually love to crow in the wee hours of the morning); the rhythmic bom-bom sounds of women grinding peanuts in the mortar and pestle; the noisy chaos of the school from 6 am to 10 pm (you wonder how the students ever learn amidst all the commotion); and either waking up to the sounds of our guard sweeping out dirt yard at dawn or the neighbors’ loud eclectic American music blaring from the sound system (ranging from Celine to Michael Jackson to Avril Lavigne to Akon), that is, if we’re lucky enough to have electricity on that particular morning.

However, none of my American visitors experienced being awakened by our next-door-neighbor’s death celebration ceremony. It is customary that family members and the community hold a lively mass to honor the dead in some religious traditions here, and they often happen to kick off around midnight! I had been invited to attend a few of these masses, but always respectfully declined thinking it was better to be in the safety of my house in the middle of the night. One Friday Abby and I went to bed at 11 pm, but woke up minutes later to drum beating, rowdy cries of aye aye aye, and stomping and clapping—it was a powerful noise! Abby and I agreed that they could not possibly keep up the racket that long, but we were very wrong. After about two hours and putting the pillow over my ears, which somewhat muffled the noise, I eventually fell asleep. Poor Abby did not fair as well, light sleeper that she is! She drifted off sometime after 6:12 am (she timed it) when the music and shouting finally stopped. It was some celebration and certainly impressive endurance! It also demonstrates what a strong sense of community there is in Chibuto and what a special tradition of honoring those loved ones who have passed on that takes place!

It will be an adjustment to transition back to the States where neighborhoods and houses are more spread out and life does not happen in the streets, but rather in the big houses with white picket fences and manicured lawns. Everything appears neat and tidy; all the messy parts of life are hidden behind closed doors. Heck, even the cats and dogs are better fed and received better medical care than many of my community members. You get in the car and drive from Point A to B in the States – it is more rapid and efficient, yet very impersonal. You lose the human contact and daily greetings you exchange every time you leave the house walking from Point A to Point B - the market, school, your workplace, your friend's house, etc. Yes, this means that it’s hard to keep your business private but the other side of the coin is that you really know your neighbors and there is a sense of solidarity that, in my opinion, is missing in many neighborhoods in the States. My neighbors are always cooking together, the children roam freely from house to house, and when a large event happens everyone around is considered family. I remember how comforting it was to be on the receiving end of this support on the occasions when our house got broken into and a crazy man kept inappropriately turning up at our house. The neighborhood came together forming a strong bond—a force not be reckoned with—and helped us tremendously in resolving these problems ! Everyone literally circled the culprits; it was life happening on the streets all right.

Last week I listened to some returned Peace Corps Volunteers share their experiences about moving back to the States, and all noted how lonely it felt. People are so busy, concerned with the next step, getting ahead, and have so much stuff to entertain them (TV, internet, video games, expensive toys, iphone) that they really do not spend much time together. Part of me is really excited to get back to a faster pace of life and more comfortable lifestyle. But my time in the Peace Corps has taught me how invaluable the small daily interactions and connections are, which is something that is often lost in our own culture because of our material wealth. I am grateful that I have gotten to see the advantages of this simpler way of life in a way that I would not have otherwise.


jean said...

Wow Gracey, a very well written blog entry. I know I will never forget the time we spent with you in Chibuto! I remember the neighbor children greeting us every time we went in or out of your yard. It really is a special place. Can't wait to see you in Rochester some day! Jean

MaineMum said...

Your descriptions remind me of descriptions of rural southern villages, poor neighborhoods in cities before the days of television and massive drug related crime, native American villages, etc. I wonder if and when "progress" ever comes to Mozambique, will they too lose these important elements of life?