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.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Please donate to our cultural center!

Dear friends and family,

I have been serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Southern Africa in Mozambique as a community health promoter since October 2008. My primary assignment is being a community health promoter and I have been working towards the goal of improving the quality of life in Chibuto, where I am stationed, in various capacities. One way is through collaboration with a local group of working professionals as well as other Peace Corps Volunteers in efforts to build a cultural center.

Since April 2009, I have been working with this group to construct a cultural center for youth on the outskirts of my city. Utilizing local materials, labor and expertise, the cultural center will provide an environment where young people can productively spend their free time, thus reducing their chances of engaging in risky or unhealthy behavior.

The center will provide training and development in the areas of theater, music, visual arts, dance, sports and culinary arts. Talents in these areas will be cultivated with the help of Mozambican professionals, creating a form of expression that preserves, appreciates and celebrates Mozambican culture. In doing so, participants will also be developing their fine- tuned motor skills.

The local government has donated the land for the project just outside of the city center. The cultural center will consist of the construction of a small office and stage and eventually a kitchen/café for culinary students. A large space behind the center will be kept open for sporting events and other large gatherings. Phase one of the project will include the construction of an open-air stage, a small building to be used as an office, and a reed fence surrounding the entire property for privacy and protection.

Creating a sustainable center will be an ever-present priority in the creation of this project, its objective, and its methodology. Our request from the Partnership Program will help greatly in the initial start-up cost. It would contribute greatly toward the preservation of cultural pride and other such factors would motivate the local community to encourage healthy and creative behaviors among the younger generation.

This cultural center project is an out-of-the box method of HIV prevention for our community in Mozambique, where the HIV rate is estimated to be 29% in our province. It will also bring the community together through the events we will hold.

Please think about contributing to our cause to make our dream into a reality. If you decide to donate, you may do that through the Peace Corps Partnership Website ( The total amount we are raising for the project is $6,646 while our community is contributing $2,993. The good thing about this cause is that your donation merits a tax-exemption and there will be Peace Corps Volunteers overseeing the project so you can rest assured that your money will go directly to the cause and benefit our community.

Thanks so much for your help and support!
Gracey Uffman
Peace Corps Volunteer
Mozambique 2008-2010