Monday, November 8, 2010

Saying Goodbye to Mozambique

Yesterday Abby, our cat, and I left Chibuto - we packed up our home and said goodbye to all the friends we made in the last 23 months. My last week in Chibuto was very special because I had small parties with my work colleagues and young women's empowerment group, and enjoyed a lot of last visits. We received official word that our cultural center project is fully funded, which is exciting news! (Thanks to all who donated).

My last night I visited the house of a young girl named Aissa. She has been a regular participant in my young women's empowerment group for the past 2 years but for one reason or another I never made it to her house. Perhaps because her house was on the other side of the town. More likely because I had almost written her off (as terrible as it sounds). At age 20, she is still in the ninth grade and does not seem particularly motivated in her studies. Furthermore, she is habitually late, and not just a little bit, which can be frustrating. Aissa is a tiny girl; she does not stand more than 4 feet 9 inches tall, so you would not expect her to have a child, let alone a large 3 year-old son. So right or wrong, I was inclined to invest more time and energy to the girls more dedicated to their studies and with obvious potential for brighter futures. What I had overlooked was how loving and caring she is - always greeting me with a smile and even moved to tears when I broke my nose last year because she hated to see me in pain. Although I did not feel like going to her house the last day because I knew I’d inevitably be forced to stay a long time and endure a lot of special attention, I figured it would mean a lot to the family and was the right thing to do. And boy was I glad I went – late is better than never! I showed up to her house and was offered a chair & promptly asked what my preferred soda was; the routine that had become so familiar to me during any house visit. I sat and enjoyed getting to watch the house dynamics play out while they prepared a special dinner.

I had met most of her family members in town, but never all at the same time. All 8 of them lived in a modest three-room house made of reeds, and without electricity. What was shocking is that 20-year-old Aissa’s 3-year-old baby was older than her mother’s youngest child. The mother’s youngest child was also 3 while her oldest was 28. Aissa and her mother got pregnant at almost exactly the same time and gave birth two months apart. Today the two 3-year-old boys are inseparable – a son and grandson the same age. Family planning is clearly not something Aissa learned from her mother. However, in many ways both the young children Aissa and her mother said came from unwelcome pregnancies, turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The two young boys have become inseparable and it was fun to see them playing together. After a delicious dinner, I left so happy I had gone and with a much better understanding of Aissa – her humble abode was filled with loving and kindness, which are perhaps two of her best characteristics.

I also went to watch the 7th week of the 10-week talent show many of my favorite youth have been hosting. They have been putting on an American Idol like show complete with three judges and voting opportunities for the viewers. They have made it as professional as possible – arranging a sound system, microphones, and generator so the show does not get disrupted from the frequent power outages. They charge a $1 entry fee to help cover the costs. It gives the youth a chance to shine and discover their talents while also providing entertainment and a positive way for youth to spend their free time in a community lacking extracurricular activities. It was impressive to see the young people making this happen all on their own and seeing the kids performing songs, dances, and skits. The whole event was exceptionally similar to a talent show in the US minus one crucial difference. There was no one over the age of 25 in the building – no parental or teacher support. I was imagining the audience for a talent show in the States and thinking how it’d be filled with parents and grandparents snapping photos and proudly cheering on their children.

The young adults responsible for the talent show were recently elected leaders of the new cultural center we have started. The cultural center is designed for older youth and adults to teach younger kids art, dance, music, etc. so hopefully it will encourage inter-generational collaboration. It is pretty amazing what the teens do on their own but far from ideal in my opinion; so much would be gained if there was more direction and support from elders to youth. Nevertheless, watching youth in action was such a good way to go out – it gave me a positive feeling that things might be heading in that direction with the help of these young leaders in the future!

On Monday, I arrived to Namaacha to spend my last week visiting my host family brining it full-circle. It never fails to amaze me how despite their busy schedules and financial limitations, they are so generous and give me princess treatment. The children play happily and simply without thousands of toys or expensive forms of entertainment. It always reminds me of what’s most important in this life: family, how you treat others, having food on the table and shelter over your head, and loving relationships on a daily basis; take or leave the rest.

Although my Peace Corps journey is coming to a close, I will never forget how much this experience has marked and changed my life. I have so many fond memories and am so happy I had the opportunity to embark on this worthwhile sojourn.