Thursday, December 23, 2010

Crianca whispering, Coca-cola, and Christmas!

Hello! I am happy to say that I am blogging from a much better mental state than last time. Since getting back from the city on Thursday evening, everything has just been pretty great. I was greeted by a bunch of teachers at a bar when I got off the chapa that Thursday afternoon, and sat with them for a couple hours. I have not had a beer at site yet, and so usually just order a soda. Well, let me tell you, I have had more soda in the last week than I would ever want to drink. Since I ordered one the first time, now whenever I sit down another teacher orders a Coke for me. And when I finish that one, they order another one for me, regardless of whether I want it or not. If I say I don’t want it, I have to take it home with me. It’s getting a little ridiculous. I’m also not quite sure on what is appropriate here… if they order it, do I offer to pay? I haven’t yet, and no one has said anything, so I’m thinking I don’t. It’s too bad I’m not drinking beer- think of how many free beers I could get!

Anyway, since I have been back, I have honestly been pretty busy! Every morning I get up around 5:30, go for a jog, take a bucket bath, sit on my porch and read while I eat some crackers, bananas, and peanut butter, and then go help the teachers with grading for a while. I go home to make lunch (which I have made some pretty awesome things- curried vegetable rice will become a staple!), do some crossword puzzles, wander around in the afternoon, usually find some teachers to sit with for a while, play guitar, usually have a visitor of some sort stop by my house to chat, eat leftover lunch for dinner, crawl into my mosquito net at about 6:30 when it gets dark, and read and watch movies until about 9! Wow, typing it up makes that seem REALLY not exciting, but I promise it is actually pretty nice. I’ve found a good balance of finding some kind of project to make the day have a purpose and being content with just relaxing the rest of the day. I was also surprised on Friday by a visit from Eden, a fellow volunteer, and I returned the favor by visiting her Sunday afternoon. She is only about 20 K away, but neither of us have cell phone service so we just have to “drop by” and hope that the other is around. It’s nice to know someone is so close!

The only thing that has really started to get to me this week is the criancas (children). There is a group of about ten kids that just sit outside my house and stare at me. All day. From the moment I open my door to the moment I close it, they are there. They don’t speak Portuguese, either, so I can’t even talk with them. At first they were kind of cute, and we just exchanged a lot of smiles, but the novelty is wearing off. They started knocking on my windows at night, too, which I yelled at them for. I hate being mean, but seriously, I can only say “Ola!”  back at them so many times in one day. I’ve started calling myself the “crianca whisperer” but I’m hoping that this will not be a 2 year commitment.

Now I am down in Moatize for Christmas! I successfully (sort of) made some tortilla chips from scratch to bring, and we have already made some pretty good things. Audrey and Helen have an oven, so the possibilities are endless! We already made the first batch of cookies (chocolate cookies with peanuts), and there was talk of vegetarian lasagna for Christmas. I’m just excited to be back in cell phone contact for a couple days, to spend some time with some new great friends, and to hopefully sing some Christmas carols! I am missing everyone back home a LOT- it’s tough to be so far away! One of the teachers asked to see photos of my family. At first I was like “of course!”… and then I had to tell him I thought it would be better to wait until after the holidays to look at pictures- I honestly would have started crying in front of him if I got those out. I got a little choked up the other day when I was helping with the grading when I noticed that my handwriting looked a little like my mom’s… ridiculous. It’s a good miss, though- I am just thankful that I have family and friends back home that I love so much! Not everyone is so fortunate.

Not to get sappy, but the song for the post is “Merry Christmas, Darling” by the Carpenters. This is one of my all time favorite Christmas songs (I can just hear my mom, now, telling me how sad it is that Karen Carpenter died so young), and it is obviously fitting for a Christmas away from family. I’ll be there in spirit! Feel free to call me over the holiday… 

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!! Have such a wonderful holiday!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Few Pictures... couldn't log on to Picasa in this internet cafe- more to come another time!

 secondary school in Namaacha
 host family


Where am I??

I have asked myself that question about 100 times in the last week. Today marks the completion of my first week at site, and I feel like I have gone through enough emotions to feel like I have been here a year already! I’d be lying if I said everything has been easy-breezy. At least once a day, in fact, I find that I need to give myself a pep talk, and remind myself of why I am here. I still have very positive feelings about my site, but I truly think the next month will be the hardest of the 27 I am in Mozambique. Without a “job” to do yet (since the school year doesn’t start until January), it is difficult to remember why I am here… so far it seems I am just here to embarrass myself and to challenge myself to find ways to fill the days sans cell phone service, friends, and an electric fan to fend off the sweltering heat. BUT before you think I am having a bad time, I do have several stories of triumph to share! I didn’t want to post all about my struggles, but I thought it was only fair to actually share with people honestly about my experience- good and bad. I am sure there will be more rough points ahead, and I want to make sure I adequately reflect on them- that way I can appreciate this journey in its entirety! Alright, enough deep thoughts for the day—here are some more interesting details.

“Where Am I?” Moments:
Saturday, I decided to venture in to Tete City for the “weekend.” I left, not knowing if I’d be back later that day or as late as Monday. My director encouraged me to leave for the whole weekend, seeing as Kaunda is pretty empty this time of year, but I did not yet know if Audrey and Helen were able to let me stay with them at their school, where they were still living while they waited for their house to be complete. Without cell phone service, I started seeing that I have to be extremely flexible when going anywhere. So, I packed up a couple changes of clothes and my tooth brush, and started towards the road to look for a ride. Derek, Eden, and I (all in the Chiuta district, Eden and I with no cell service) had planned to start waiting for chapas at staggered times, hoping that we’d end up on the same one. Shockingly, our plans didn’t work out… I got on a chapa alone, but had a very easy trip into the city. As we neared the bridge to cross the Zambezi River (Where am I??), I finally got cell service and was able to talk to Derek, only to find out he hadn’t even left his village, which was the farthest away. No worries, I’ll just find a coffee shop or something. It was then that the driver of the chapa told me the car wasn’t going anywhere and I needed to change cars… alright. So, I scan for an open chapa and hail them to open the door and let me in. I jump in to the moving car (Where am I??), at which no one even acknowledges me. We cross the bridge, and finally the driver asks me where I’d like to go. It’s about now that I realize I have never been in Tete City before, and have absolutely no idea where anything is. “Where all the stores are,” I tell him in Portuguese. He looks at me like I am crazy. “How about the Hotel Zambezi?” he asks. “Sure!” I answer, at least recognizing the name. So he drops me off in front of the hotel, and they drive off laughing. Alright, here I am. It’s about 7 in the morning and I have absolutely no idea where to go. I wander up and down the streets for a while, searching for anything that looks slightly familiar from our brief trip through the city on our way to site. No luck. Finally, I see a telecommunications center, and ask for directions to an internet café. Luckily, these also led me to the very American looking coffee shop that I had seen when we drove through. Success!

This café was seriously like walking back into America (Where am I??). Tete City is packed with foreigners, and this is where they all go. I attempted by buy some internet time, but the internet was down. I had no idea whether Derek or anyone was on the way or not, so I just sat and read a book for about 2 hours. Finally, I hear from Derek, Eden, and Audrey and Helen, all of whom were on their way to the city! Success!

The 5 of us had a nice day walking around, shopping, and eating pizza. After, we decided we could just walk back across the bridge to Audrey and Helen’s school, where I was allowed to stay for the night. It was only after about 45 minutes in the insanely hot sun that we realized that 5K is a pretty lengthy walk when you are carrying many purchases and it is no less than 95 degrees out.  I even relieved my arms for a bit by carrying my stuff on my head (Where am I??) Just kidding…. I wish I could do that. We finally got back to the school where I was able to take a cold shower and lay down for a bit. Success!

The next day, after spending what seemed like the whole night on the phone (have to take advantage of cell service when I have it!), we headed back into the city to meet a current PCV’s Brazilian friends that live in the city for a Brazilian BBQ. She walks us to his house, where we realize he lives in an extremely fancy house by American standards (Where am I??) complete with a shower that talks to you. They were cooking up some meat that was apparently really good, and we just sat outside and drank a beer and enjoyed the new company. We ate an obscene amount of food, and eventually left with one of the Brazilians who offered to drive us to the bridge. As we get in the car, he offers us a beer (No, thanks) or some chocolate (Um, yes!!!) and we cruise up to the bridge in his Land Cruiser (Where am I??) We walked across the bridge, and were met on the other side by a sudden downpour. So, we realized we just can’t win on the walk, and hitched a ride from a passing truck. We crammed in, and quickly regretted the decision as the man turned the car around and drove us back in the direction we were coming from (Where am I??) Thankfully there were 3 of us, and we were able to convince him that no, we did not want to go back to a bar with him, we needed to get back to the school. After much laughter he did turn around and take us to the school. Success!

I spent the night at the school again, and woke up unfortunately dreading my trip back to my empty house. After a weekend of friends, showers, and good food, it was hard to get excited to going back to isolation. Audrey and Helen walked me out to wait for a chapa, but there didn’t seem to be many cars going in the direction of Kaunda. Finally, a truck driver stops and tells me they are going to Zambia, and I can ride with them to my village. Sensible Hannah wanted to say no, but looking at 2 years of waiting for what “sensible Hannah” deems appropriate seemed pretty daunting. Audrey and Helen encouraged me to just try it, and so I hopped up onto the truck bed and started praying (Where am I??). They were actually very nice, and despite the fact that the semi truck was probably going about 20 mph the majority of the time, I did make it back to site. This will just have to be something I get used to, and I’ll just have to listen to my gut when it tells me something is unsafe, and trust that most people are good! Success!

And so here I am, back at site, where I have been for the week. I have completed several little projects, journaled a lot, helped the teachers with their grading, cooked some decent meals, all while counting down the days until I go back to the city to see friends. I sometimes worry that this is an unhealthy attitude, this counting down, but I’m trying to trust that it is normal to look forward to seeing friends, and as long as I am managing to stay productive while I am alone, I am doing alright. I also know that once school starts, my days of feeling purposeless will be over and I will be wishing I could have one of these days again with absolutely nothing to do.

This weekend I have lots of cooking goals to get ready for “A Very Mato Christmas” in Moatize at Audrey and Helen’s. They apparently have a pretty nice house, and I am looking forward to seeing everyone. All the Tete folks as well as some stragglers from other provinces will be together, trying to enjoy our first Christmas away from home. I am dreading the sadness I am going to feel about being away, but I am thankful that I have a great group of people to spend the holiday with! I think we will all share some tears together, but I think we’ll manage to have some fun, too.

Alright, well this was an unbearably long post. I should also mention that it went from being about a million degrees to torrential down pour as I am writing this. I’m supposed to be meeting with my counterpart to fill out some forms right now, but I don’t think I’ll venture outside quite yet!

The song for this post is “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, another Molly CD. I started listening to it right before I left Michigan, and am thankful that I have actually found friends that can give me a “home” away from my family. Happy listening! I will hopefully update again around Christmas time, but if not, Merry Christmas!!! I hope that everyone has a wonderful holiday with great family, friends, and food!

December 10th- Wild Friday Night

Well, it’s 6:30, and I’m already tucked in my mosquito net. This is almost as exciting as last Friday night’s swearing in/birthday celebration in Maputo, but just not quite. My first days at site have gone pretty well. Aside from my classy back flop in the mud outside my latrine my first night, my epic hour-long battle with a cockroach in my room at 2 am last night, and the fact that my head lamp is falling off of my head because I am sweating so much, things have been great! Ha! All sarcasm aside, though, I really do think I will come to love my site. Things are awkward now, as expected, but I am pretty confident this will turn out to be a good fit for me.

My first impressions of my site exceeded all expectations.  My town is actually big enough to have a couple small bancas, or stores, and I was greeted very welcomingly by my director and his wife. My house is very cute- I have a huge yard with a fence and 3 rooms. I do have electricity, but the only 2 outlets as well as light are right by the front door, which is why I still end up retiring to my bed when it gets dark. I have a nice electric water kettle, but because I have no extension cords, I have to stand holding it right by the door. It works, but it’s pretty funny! My director’s wife gave me food the first night, and because of some slight stomach issues, that has been enough to get me to the weekend. I met a bunch of other teachers the second day, and they were all very nice and young. My teacher/representative/counterpart figure told me that they like to joke around a lot, so I’m pretty excited. There are 11 female teachers I think between the primary and secondary school, so I should be able to find some friends! Everyone has been insistent on my not sitting alone in my house. Today I was reading on my front porch after a trip over to Manje to meet the district director (which ended up falling through) and another teacher came up and told me I shouldn’t be sitting alone. I’m not quite sure what she wanted me to do, but I asked if other people were doing anything and she said I could go sit with the other teachers as they completed grades. They ended up letting me help, which was a good introduction to the process and a good chance for me to talk to some people. They are all leaving for holidays next week, though, so I think my village will get pretty lonely for the next month! I just wish my Portuguese was better so I could act a little more like myself! That will come with time.

I had quite the chapa adventure today. If I haven’t talked about them yet, chapas are 16ish passenger vans that act as buses. This was by far the most crowded one I have been on yet. I counted at least 25 people, and was at one point sitting with my knees between an old Mozambican man’s legs. I was finding the whole situation somewhat comical, and couldn’t help but start laughing out loud when they loaded a live goat in the back. And then a boy got on with a chicken. And then more people just kept piling on. And then we stopped so people could buy mangos. It was so ridiculous, let alone uncomfortable, and I fully understood why the Peace Corps demands a sense of humor.

December 7th Post- limited Internet access so posting a bunch at once!

Hey all! Hope things are going well back home. Over in Mozambique, we are officially volunteers! We have had a whirl-wind week that I will try to sum up before my computer battery dies.

Our last week in Namaacha was pretty good. Things were kind of weird at my homestay seeing as my homestay dad moved back home from Maputo, where he was at the University. After 8 weeks of no dominant male in the house, it was kind of hard for me to adjust to the way things are when the dad is home. We ate dinner much later (10:30 one night!), a ton of meat was served at every meal, and my sisters just didn’t joke around as much as they normally did. Oh, and some random boy moved in with us that no one ever introduced me to… whenever I finally can post pictures (now I have internet but my g-mail and Picasa sites won’t connect… go figure) I can point him out. He’s in all the family pics, yet I have no idea who he is! Anyway, I was kind of bumming about a less than perfect last week with my family, but my final night actually went really well. I gave them my gifts, which were 2 Michigan T-shirts (my sisters took these and I taught them to say “Go Blue!”- so funny), candles (my mom took these), a flashlight key chain (my dad), and like a million silly bands for everyone else (including mystery boy) that were quite the hit! After that they sang me some farewell songs in the local dialect and then we had a photo shoot. It was a blast! Unfortunately, the next morning my mom left without even saying goodbye to me… but my sister cried, so I feel like I did at least have some positive impact on them!

Friday morning, after grabbing our last Namaacha sandwich, we loaded the bus to go to Maputo for swear-in. We arrived at the hotel around noon as scheduled, but unfortunately we couldn’t check in until 2! The hotel was fabulous, so we all just lounged around in the air conditioning. Eventually, we checked in (I had a sweet… oh my goodness, so nice) and got ready to go to the Ambassador’s house. Here, we had our ceremony (despite the rain, which apparently is good luck) and became official volunteers. We also took an ungodly number of pictures and ate far too much food. That seems to be a recurring theme for our last week. More to come. Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel and started celebrating both our becoming volunteers and Michelle’s 23rd birthday! It was a blast in a half- lots of dancing, laughing, and even some 2 am swimming.

Bright and early Saturday morning, we left the hotel to fly to Chimoio. My group was the first to leave, so fortunately, and unfortunately, we missed out on the mad house of goodbyes that apparently took place in the hotel lobby when everyone else was leaving. I’m glad I missed all the tears, but it’s too bad I didn’t get to give everyone one last hug- so Moz15, here’s a shout out and goodbye hug to you!!!

Since then we have been in Chimoio for our supervisor’s conference. There is a professor from my school here representing my director, and he seems very nice. At first he was pretty intimidating, but I think he is taking this all very seriously seeing as my town has never had a volunteer before and they are all finding out what we are really supposed to be doing. The whole day is in Portuguese, and since we’ve kind of been slacking in our Portuguese the last few weeks, this is fairly exhausting! I think it is good practice at just feeling awkward 24/7, though, and very useful for all of us to talk about our expectations for each other. Besides the conference, we are busy desperately trading movies and music one last time, speaking as much English with each other as possible, and spending the last few days together. Tomorrow, all the Tete folks will load a bus with our supervisors and all our stuff (we are shopping today and apparently I need to buy a mattress…) and get dropped off at site. Apparently I am 3rd on the drop off list so I will actually get to site tomorrow! Crazy how fast that creeped up. I have a feeling I will be having dinner with the teacher that came to the conference (he had lots of questions about what kind of food I eat), which will be nice to have something to do/ someone I know when I get to town. Oh! And my village is not called Tamuire- the school is Escola Secundaria de Tamuire, but my town is actually called Kaunda. I have found that mentioned somewhere, so that is exciting! My teacher-friend said it was hot, dry, and there is lots of xima, dried fish, and bush rat to eat… get excitied.

I am planning on going down to Tete City next weekend to do some shopping and probably stay at Helen and Audrey’s for a night. Hopefully I will be able to update a little bit then! It’s fairly daunting to think about leaving all contact, but I think I will adjust fairly quickly. I am anxious to update you all as I know you are anxious to hear about it (my mother has made it very clear that people are reading and asking questions!!!) So, I will do my best!

The song for this post is “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show. I had never heard this song before training, and since I have been here it seems like everyone is listening to it. I think it might be making a come back back home, too, seeing as I saw it on someone’s Facebook? Weird. Anyway, I have listened to it on repeat for the last 9 weeks, and think I will always associate it with my first days in Mozambique!

That’s all for now… missing you all, trying to remind myself that it’s Christmas season, and thinking about everyone back home often!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Tamuire, Thousand Island, and Thansgiving

Happy late Thanksgiving! I hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday and is enjoying a relaxing weekend. We had a blast celebrating Thanksgiving here. All the trainees put together a potluck and the food was OUTSTANDING. I may have felt more full than I have ever felt in my life. Some highlights of the dinner plate: a fabulous bruschetta appetizer that I think unfortunately didn’t even make it to the dinner (we may or may not have eaten the majority of it at the bar before the potluck), some really great salads with thousand island dressing, mashed potatoes soaked in gazpacho, and an ungodly number of desserts that all tasted even better with the chocolate peanut butter frosting that Michelle and I brought. Oh, and there was turkey, too… which I heard was pretty good, although I can’t attest to it myself.

We just finished up model school, and are glad to be done. After site placement last week, model school just wasn’t taken too seriously… lots of us had our subjects switched, and so teaching biology lessons this week just didn’t seem that useful. I tried teaching one English class, and that was quite the experience. I think we have adopted the theory of “when in doubt, just turn it into a song.” Regardless, the 2 weeks are over and although the last week was kind of silly, I do feel more confident in front of the classroom than I did before. I did get to teach the reproductive system to about ten 16 year old boys, and I survived, so that says something!

The beach weekend was so much fun. Both mornings we got down to the beach by about 7:30 and the water felt wonderful. I haven’t yet posted pictures, but I am “tagged” in some on facebook, so please check those out! Hopefully next week in Maputo I will have fast enough internet to get some pictures up. We ate good food and just spent the weekend relaxing. It was much needed.

Not too much more news on details on my site… I probably won’t know too much until I get there, unfortunately. My site is called Tamuire, Tete… if anyone has any luck finding any information on the internet, feel free to let me know! I have yet to find it on a map or mentioned anywhere, so any information would be much appreciated. We leave Namaacha next week for Maputo for swearing in, and then on Saturday we will fly to Chimoio, Manica for the “Supervisor’s Conference” for a couple days. After that, we get dropped off at site. I will probably be one of the last to be dropped off, so I might not get there until that Friday (2 weeks from now). My site is only 65 K from Tete City, which I have heard is pretty awesome. Specifically, I heard there are 3 pizzarias, which is good enough for me! Of course, I am anxious to share more information when I know it!

In other news, I think we are all ready to get out of our homestays. Since site placement, the host families seem to have forgotten us a little bit. It is an interesting balance of still treating us like we are 5 years old but then forgetting that we exist and still do need to eat lunch every day. I still think I had a great host family experience, but I am ready to move onto my own house. Tonight a bunch of us are going to the biggest restaurant in Namaacha, so that should be fun. I am trying to take advantage of every social opportunity possible before I am off alone to the bush. I really think I will get the best of both worlds with the truly rural experience while still being close enough to the city to get away every couple weeks. Looking forward to lots of reading, hopefully getting a guitar, and cooking some good food.

Well, since it is officially Christmas season, I will have to pick a Christmas tune for the song of the post. I’m going to pick The Chipmunks “Christmas, Don’t be Late” because Simon’s laugh just gets me every time (fast forward to about 1:30 in). I hope you all are getting in the holiday spirit—we are trying to get in it over here! Miss you all, more information coming soon!

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Well, I am going to the bush. I got placed in Tete province, which is as northwest Mozambique as you can get. I am opening a new site alone, and apparently will be teaching English. This obviously could change once I get to site, but I probably won't know until right before school starts. Unfortunately, I probably won't be updating this blog too frequently seeing as I will have no electricity and no cell phone coverage in my village. I am feeling fine about it all; I knew that this was a possibility, yet my expectations had kind of changed throughout training. I don't have too many more details seeing as there is not a volunteer there now, but I am looking forward to having lots of interesting stores to tell! Promising more details when I know. :)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Peanut butter cookies, Permagardening, and (im)Patience

Hello again! We just finished week 6 of training and it’s hard to believe that in 3 short weeks, we’ll be off to our sites! It seems like just yesterday we were counting the days until we got to the half-way point of training, but now all of a sudden we are so much closer to the end than we are to the beginning! My emotions are mixed – while I am anxious to be out of the watchful eye of a host family (“No, I didn’t take a second bath today, I didn’t want to!”) I know it will be quite the change to be away from all the friends we’ve made (and English we’ve spoken) during training.

The last 2 weeks have been pretty busy. Last week we got the chance to have a “permagarden” workshop. This was definitely one of my favorite sessions so far. We were trained in not only how to make our own personal garden, but how to teach people in our community how to build one. I’m excited to grow some of my own food! Hopefully that is something I can really carry out once I am at site. This week we have been mostly preparing for model school, which starts on Monday. We will be giving full 45 minute biology lessons to real Mozambican students.  It is actually summer vacation here, so the students are mostly volunteers from our host families. I am anxious to see how much my Portuguese is challenged during the next 2 weeks! I’m giving one lesson on the female reproductive system, so that should be pretty fun!

This blog post would not be representative of our preoccupation if I didn’t mention site placement, too. I doubt an hour goes by without someone bringing up something about the big announcement that we’ll have this Thursday. Whether it be a funny dream (I dreamed I got placed in Kansas), new “fofoca” (gossip) about which sites are opening up, or just general stress elevation (I’ve been grinding my teeth again at night), site placement is on everyone’s mind. Apparently in the past years, everyone receives an envelope at the end of the day and has to wait to open it at the same time. This may include a lot of information, or just a little bit if we are opening a new site, but apparently there is a big map of Mozambique that we all go and put our names on with our general location. I really don’t think I’ll be able to control my facial expressions during this. Mozambique is just a really BIG country. Our friends for the next 2 years are pretty much just who we can travel easily to see, so we are all anxious to find out who they’ll be! I think, at least within the education group, though, that most of us get along pretty well. Time will tell!

Next weekend we have our mental health break, conveniently placed right after site placement, so we will all be going to the beach. Not sure if I’ll have an update for the weekend, but hopefully soon after I’ll be able to let everyone know where I’ll be living for the next 2 years!! I’ll also hopefully get some good “people” pictures so I can prove that I do have friends in this country.

Of course this update wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t include something about food. Last weekend another trainee Michelle and I made the BEST peanut butter cookies with chocolate peanut butter frosting. My host sister helped us with making a “traditional oven” (dutch oven) and they turned out spectacularly. We are going to make them again for the Thanksgiving potluck. This weekend we might try to make a cake. I am going to start a “bread binge” this week, too. Apparently the bread here in Namaacha is much better than we’ll have at site, and you can by a “loaf” for about 15 cents. I decided it’s time to take advantage of it! I’ll obviously still eat the other food as well… just swapping out snack crackers for bread.

Well, I do promise that the next post will have some big news- hopefully good- about my next 2 years. I hope you are staying warm back home (you can think of our days with a high of 105 here to warm up) and all have wonderful plans for Thanksgiving! The first holiday away will be tough, but I know it will make Thanksgiving 2013 that much more special! :) Sorry to get slightly corny here, but I am definitely learning how much I have to be thankful for. But, more on that later!

The song for this post doesn’t quite have a literal connection to my experience, but is just what I’ve been listening to lately. Here’s a shout-out to my sister, Molly- the song is “The Sun” by Portugal the Man. She burned me some CDs before I left and I’ve found the ideal time to listen to them is while I’m washing my clothes outside. This past weekend I had SO much laundry, and definitely got through a couple albums, including this one, and was pleased!

Okay, thanks for reading such a long post! Miss you all!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

One month done!

I have officially been in Africa for a month! This week was pretty slow training-wise, but I had some pretty valuable interactions with my host family, so that made it a successful week. On Tuesday, our classes ended early so I actually was home in time to help make dinner. Although we usually don’t eat until 8, when I get home around 6 or after the food is usually just cooking. Getting home at 4:30, though, allowed me to help with most of the prep-work (and only most- my sister had already done a lot of the stuff before I got home… can you imagine starting to cook dinner at 3 EVERY day?? Maybe some people can, but that’s not how cooking usually went for me). I got to “pilar” some peanuts (grind) and then shred the coconut. This involves sitting on a little seat with a sharp, round, shredding device on the end that you roll the coconut over. Coconut is in almost everything here- and I actually like it! I have always hated coconut, but it’s really the texture that I hate. Here they just use the milk, so the flavor is all you get. Usually it is combined with peanuts and some kind of green to put over rice, and I’ve started to like it a lot!

My family is starting to understand my sense of humor, too. A couple weeks ago they showed me pictures of a previous volunteer that they housed and talked about how funny he was and how much he liked to joke around, so I figured it was time to start stepping up my game. Last night they were filling up the plate for the dog (did I mention we have a dog? Not as cute as Gracie, but it is cute) and they put xima (corn or flour based starch staple dish) and cabbage on the plate, which was exactly what I ate (they all had beef, too), so I asked if the dog was vegetarian too and they nearly fell out of their chairs laughing. It was funny because I’ve definitely said some wittier things that did not go over so well, so perhaps I need to simplify my jokes- at least until my Portuguese is better.

Some other interesting observations by my family- I was explaining about how much I hate to wash my jeans (and let me tell you, if you hate doing laundry with a washing machine, try to hand wash the mud out of your jeans in the African sun and then you might change your mind) and they told me that I shouldn’t stop wearing jeans just because they are hard to wash because apparently I have a body “like a guitar” that looks good in jeans. Not quite sure what that means, but I think it was supposed to be a compliment.

This week we went to Swaziland! Or more like we stepped into Swaziland, got our passports stamped, and then walked back out. Apparently for our visas to stay good we need to leave the country every month (or something), so that was the task for Thursday. All of our classes were cancelled in order for us to do this, so it was a nice break day for us to just “passear” and relax. Passearing is one my favorite things about Mozambique so far. It can be used for anything that you are doing that is not work or school. Anytime you leave the house for social purposes you are going to “passear.” You might be going to the bar, going to walk “downtown,” going to the market, it doesn’t matter.  It’s especially convenient for me now when I don’t always have the vocabulary to explain what my plans are with friends- I just tell my mom I’m going to passear and it’s all understood. She encourages me to hang out with friends as opposed to making me feel guilty, so that’s nice. All the trainees had a Halloween party last night, and my dad was trying to tell me that I needed to be home early so I wouldn't have to walk home in the dark, but my mom was totally on my side and told me it didn't matter when I got home. I am living to tell about it, so clearly she was right to trust me! :)

The song for this post is.... Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." Odd choice, I know, but we have this talent show thing a couple of times during training, and my group performed this! I have a video, but the internet might be too slow to upload it... anyway, it was pretty funny, and has been stuck in my head all week! Hopefully more pictures to come!

Miss you all!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sun, Sun, and Sun!

Although it’s not a creative title, I had to do it after this week was just as sunny as last week was muddy! Namaacha is really gorgeous when the sun is out. Everything is so green because of the rain, and we are nestled on a peak between two beautiful mountain views. I’ve been here for 3 weeks now, but the view is still amazing each time I see it.

With each day here, I truly love it more. This morning I spent sitting out on my front porch listening to music and gossiping with my host sisters about the pregnant girl next door – probably the same thing I would be doing on a nice Saturday morning in America! My sisters are GREAT (I think I’ve said that before, but they really are). They both are in 11th grade (and only 17 and 18, which is much more on track than a lot of what you’ll find in Moz) and both plan on going on to college afterwards, one to be an engineer and the other to be an architect. Quite impressive! I got to help them with their math homework the other night, and it really made me excited to be a teacher here. We’ve heard a lot about the frustrations that we will encounter, but I know they’ll be so many moments of accomplishment, too.

The PCVs training us this week gave us lots of good information about the various sites throughout Moz, which was exciting for us because we no longer get site visits as part of training. We still have 4 weeks before we find out where we’ll be, and we are all so anxious! Mozambique is a pretty big country, so all our sites will really vary. I’m glad I’m making friends that I can visit later on and see more of the country!

I am getting to know my host mother a lot better now. I cooked with her the other night and talked with her about her past a little bit. She went to the IFP (school for professors) in Namaacha, and has lived here ever since. I also found out that she just turned 40 this week! She told me the day after… I was so sad that there was no way I could have known that! It’s also one of my sister’s birthdays today, so I think next week we are celebrating them both. She told me she has another sister that is also a professor, and then another that is a police officer! I can see why her daughters are so ambitious- this is clearly a family that has high expectations for women! My sisters also told me that they had to learn Portuguese before they could learn the local dialect, which is opposite what happens in most households. I feel lucky to get to know a family that puts education as the priority!

They commented on how I am eating more lately, and it’s true! I am SO hungry all the time! I think it’s just because none of the food is that FILLING. I am getting plenty to eat, but my body just wants more! The food is tasty, but I am definitely anxious to get to site and start cooking for myself- most of my cravings I should be able to find some way to meet. Top on my list: CHEESE, spicy food, tomato-based sauces, and just snack food in general. I have been eating lots of vegetables, too, but all of them are dowsed in oil. I’m hoping once I get to site I will be able to improvise some other types of salad dressings!

The song for this post is “Getting Better” by the Beatles, because it truly is with each day. I’m sure there will be more low points to come, but I’m happy to just feel more and more excited as time goes on! I’d much rather have that than the opposite!

Hope all is going well in the States! I hope you noticed the pictures that I posted, and more will be added sometime before I leave training. Weather permitting, I’ll be doing some cool hikes this weekend, and I won’t forget my camera! Hope you all are having a beautiful fall!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Mud, mud, and mud.

I’ve been in Africa for over 2 weeks now, although it feels like it has been much longer than that! As slow as the first week of training felt, though, the second week flew by. We actually started having some of our technical sessions (okay, one of our technical sessions so far) in Portuguese! I think pretty soon they all are, which I think will really help my Portuguese get better. I practice as much as possible at my homestay, and I have a fair amount of confidence that I can “survive on the streets” with what I know, but my Portuguese still needs a LOT of work! Pretty soon I’ll be in a school teaching, though, and I’ll have no choice but to learn it!

Outside of language classes, we have been learning a lot about the education system and what it is like to teach in Mozambique schools from the current volunteers who help train us. It is pretty different from America… resources will be very scarce, classrooms will be crowded, and the rules of the system might take some time to get used to. I don’t want to say too much about specifics because each school varies, so once I actually am in my own school I’ll be able to tell more about that.

Some things I was not expecting in Africa:
-       COLD. It has been cold and rainy all week. Last night it was probably around 50 and raining- so let’s just say the one sweatshirt I have here is getting it’s use.
-       To ask for more beans and rice. Although my family has been doing a great job at feeding me lots of variety and vegetables, beans and rice has proven to be the most satisfying. I feel as though I’m hungry constantly just because not much of the food has many nutrients, so I tried to convey that I REALLY like the beans and would like more of them!
-       To argue that the water from the spring is much cleaner than the water from our tap. We have one in our front yard, but it’s not used very much and I thought it was broken. My mom and sisters walk to the spring most mornings to collect water (which they carry back on their heads… 20 L worth!) instead of using the tap. I am not sure if it just started working, or if they only use it for specific uses, but they were actually running it the other day and compared to our “spring river” water, it was filthy! Once my Portuguese improves I might be able to ask more about this…
-       To not be allowed to wash my underwear outside, yet to see a woman breastfeeding as she is cooking my dinner.
-       To cut towards my face. The number one rule of cooking in America is completely pointless here- the knives are so dull that even if I tried, I could not cut my finger, nor my face for that matter.
-       To look forward to my “home latrine” when I am away from my homestay. It’s funny how a home toilet is a home toilet, seat or not.
-       To take the least number of showers of anyone in my house. I was able to successfully communicate that I don’t like to shower unless I sweat (“shower” meaning bucket bath) and they agreed much more easily than other volunteers host families. When as many as 9 people need to use the water in my house, they are happy to let me save some! Unless it is hot, I usually only take a bucket bath in the morning after jogging.

Okay, well there will be more to come. The song for this post is “The Wind” by Cat Stevens. Obviously it is fitting to think of this song after hearing the wind during a storm in a house with a tin roof, but it is also a good song about moving to a new place and having new experiences.

Hope you all are doing well back home, and talk to you soon!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Latrines, Larium, and Lingua

Ola tudos! I have been in Namaacha, Mozambique for a week now, and feel like I have experienced every emotion possible while here. I can only imagine what the next 8 weeks hold! I was planning on having plenty of time to write a nice long entry, but I have noticed that “plenty of time” isn’t really possible to find during training! I’ll try to include as much as possible!

Last Saturday, all of the Trainees piled into chapas (buses/taxis) to travel to Namaacha. We unloaded at the IFP, a nice building where teacher training occurs in Namaacha. After waiting for a while (which seems to be quite common in the Peace Corps), we finally got to meet our host families. This in itself was quite a sight to see. The moms (and some dads) all came marching in singing a traditional African song, after which they all came running over holding out post-it notes with our names on them. I was met by my host sister, who walked me back to my house to meet the rest of the family. My host mom and dad were in Maputo for the day, but I met them later in the afternoon. My family is great; I have 2 sisters (17 and 18), 2 brothers (6 and 9), and 2 cousins that live with us most of the time. I have my own room, and the rest of the family shares 2 bedrooms, a hallway/bedroom, and a living room/dining room. The kitchen is off the front porch and the bathroom is outside. Although I don’t have running water like a couple lucky trainees, I do have a pretty nice set up. It’s funny that I consider my outdoor bathroom sans running water to be luxury compared to what some trainees have (or what I have heard the high school bathroom in Namaacha is like)!

I’d be lying if I said the first week was not tough. The first weekend was one of the hardest of my life. After feeling so connected with all the other trainees at orientation, I was suddenly separated from them and dropped in a house where no one spoke my language or knew anything about me or my culture- and I was lacking the ability to tell them anything! I only saw another PC person at church Sunday (3 hours long!) and spent the weekend feeling very alone, even though I was never really by myself. I knew that things would get better once classes started and I saw the other trainees, but I had to remind myself of this quite a bit.

Sure enough, once classes started, things started getting a lot better. My Portuguese has already improved drastically, and I can communicate with my family pretty well. I still have a LONG way to go, but I have enough confidence that I can usually get the message across, even if it is with terrible grammar and vocabulary.  I LOVE my sisters; they are so funny and now that I can speak a little better, they actually think I am funny, too… or at least they laugh at me a lot.  I use the word “tentei” (“I tried”) after just about everything, and they seem to think that’s pretty funny. We have language classes every day, in addition to education technical classes. My days start and end much earlier here than in the States. I’ve been waking up at 5 to jog with some other trainees (it’s not hard to get up- I wake up anyway around 4 when the chickens and roosters start their racket) and tuck in my mosquito net around 9:30. I think the next 8 weeks will go by pretty quickly.

I have yet to get too sick (knock on wood), although the anti-malaria meds have made us all a bit loopy.

The reason that I did not have as much time as I’d hoped to have tonight was that my homestay “pai” just completed another year towards his bachelor’s certificate to be a professor of professors (I think). He completed something, at least, I’m sure of that. We all were poured Cokes (he had champagne for himself) and he proceeded to read off his entire certificate (including every class completed and grade received over the last 3 years) out loud, after which we all toasted. Although our 6:30 am departure to Maputo for the day tomorrow is suddenly much closer than it was when I intended to go to sleep, I am glad I got to share the celebration with my family here.

The song for the post is:
The Rolling Stones: “I am Waiting” just because it seems like we are all waiting to find out what our lives will really be like over the next 2 years... in addition to the fact that in Mozambique, we seem to spend a lot of time waiting for things to get started! And it's just a really good song. :)

Okay, ate logo everyone! I think there is an internet cafe in Namaacha, so I can update sometime again during training. I'm just warning you now: my English is only going to get worse from here on out. :) Oh! And I promise I'll have pictures to post EVENTUALLY....

Friday, October 1, 2010

First week done!

Ola everyone!
Disclaimer: I am writing this very quickly, so I apologize for any spelling mistakes!
I arrived safely to Mozambique on Wednesday after quite the long day of traveling. On Monday, I got up around 4 (after maybe 2 hours of sleep) to take off to the MBS airport for my flight to Philly. After a tearful goodbye, a nearly missed connecting flight, and an hour-long shuttle ride to the hotel, I arrived at staging. Staging consisted of registration, filling out lots of forms, and 5 hours of presentations and discussions about our expectations and the Peace Corps' expectations of us. After staging I went out to dinner with a few other trainees, and then spent the evening repacking my suitcases and making my last phone calls. I went to sleep around midnight, and got up again at 2 hours later to get on the bus to travel to JFK. We arrived at JFK around 6 am... a full 5 hours before our flight took off! After much waiting around, we boarded the plane and took off on our 15 hours to Johannesburg. Our next flight took off right after that, and at around noon Mozambique time, we arrived in Maputo. Somehow it was Wednesday!
The Peace Corps staff met us at the airport (we had no one with us on the flight) and from there we bussed to Kaya Kwanga, our hotel for the rest of the week. This is where I am now. It is very nice- much nicer than anything we'll see for the next 2 years! We haven't been able to leave, so I can't say much about Mozambique yet. We have just been sitting in meetings, getting shots, and getting to know each other. I LOVE it here, and I really love all the people. Everyone gets along so well and is really excited to be here. The food has been great (rice, salad, potatoes, and veggies mostly every meal) and we even have a pool. Oh, and wireless, which is what brings me here.
Tomorrow we leave for Namaacha. There we will meet our host families and spend the weekend getting to know them. Monday we officially start PST (Pre-Service Training), which is going to be pretty busy. I need to learn Portuguese, after all! I won't have internet there, and will get a phone next week, so for now I am expecting to be out of contact for a while. I will update as soon as I can! Can't wait to share a little bit more about the real country!
I tried to put on pictures, but my computer is taking forever and I really should be getting to bed. My mosquito net is waiting! So, next time I hope. Nothing too exciting yet anyway!
The song for this post is "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley. Odd choice, I know, but I picked it because I am currently sitting outside the reception of a Mozambican wedding at our hotel. There has been lots of traditional African music, some that sounds like it is in Portuguese, and then some very random American songs, including this one. I also thought it was fitting seeing as this week really has been a "rock around the clock" for me- I've had no idea what day or time it really is all week!
Thanks for reading, thanks for the well-wishes, and hope everything is going well back home!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Milk Carton Wake-Up Call

Normally, checking the sell-by date on the milk carton fills me with little emotion. This week of my life, however, things will be going far from"normally." As I got out the milk to pour in my cereal this morning, I noticed the date on it was 9/26/10. Good news to anyone else- you still have a whole week of good milk! Shocking news to me- I only have one more week in the United States! And maybe only one more week of good milk for the next 27 months, for that matter! Yes, September 26th will be my last day at home before I head off to Mozambique for the Peace Corps. I have been lucky to be able to fill a lot of you in on my upcoming adventure in person, but in case I haven't, I'll give a little summary here.

After a year of applying, waiting, seeking medical/legal clearance, waiting, panicking about a lack of concrete plans after graduation, waiting, complaining constantly to my friends and family, and a little more waiting, I finally received an invitation to serve in the 15th group of volunteers in Mozambique, Africa. I was invited as a secondary science teacher (most likely biology), but they do warn you that your assignment may change according to your skills and the country's needs. We (apparently around 70) "Moz15ers" will be meeting in Philadelphia on September 27th (one week from today!) for our "Staging," and then all flying together to Mozambique the following day. After a couple days in the capital, Maputo, we will all move to Namaacha, a village an hour west of the capital for our Pre-Service Training. Here we will live with a host family and participate in intensive language, cultural, and technical training for 10 weeks. Seeing as I do not know the national language (Portuguese), have never been to another country besides Canada, and have taken no Education classes, this training is much needed! If we make it through this, and they deem us worthy, we will be sworn in as official Peace Corps Volunteers on December 3rd and placed on one of the many different sites. I will not know any more details about this until I get to that point!

I moved back home at July and had a great July and August spending time at my cabin in northern Michigan, seeing friends and family, camping with family friends, and traveling out to Oregon for my sister's wedding. Although my sister deserved all the attention there, it was great that I got the opportunity to see so many relatives and old family friends before I go. Once September rolled around, I finally had some time at home to really start getting ready. I have taken far more trips to Walmart than I hope to ever take again for the rest of my life, but I feel like I am, for the most part, as ready as I can be. They have given us a large packing list, and many current volunteers in Mozambique have given us packing tips, but the resounding advice I have received is to "not worry too much" about packing. Easier said than done, but I do keep reminding myself that living in Mozambique is not the same as being dropped on the South Pole; people in Mozambique do wear clothes, prepare food, and bathe, so the basic necessities are going to be available!

My feelings right now are hard to explain. Surprisingly, most of my good-byes have already been said! My friends down at U of M had a fantastic going away party for me this past weekend, followed by a wonderful "reception" hosted by my parents and "second parents" yesterday where I got to see many Midland friends from church, sports, and high school. It was so great to see everyone and I want to thank them all for all their support! It's kind of odd that knowing I have so many people who love me back home makes it somewhat easier to be away for a while- you would think the opposite would be true! Regardless, while I am very sad to say good-bye for the next 27 months, I am so excited for what is to come and just grateful for all the people that will be cheering me on from back home. That's hopefully the cheesiest I'll ever get on this blog, but it really is true! :)

Now that I am nearing the end of this post, I'll finally say "Welcome to my blog!" I'm unsure as to how often I'll get to post, as it depends on my access to electricity and internet. I won't post again until I get there, but will hopefully have an update shortly after arrival.  Please e-mail me or leave me a comment with your e-mail address if you would like my address while I am there!

The goal is to have a song to go with every post, hopefully matching my mood and feelings about my experience. There is probably a way to insert a song clip into the post, but who knows what kind of internet I'll be dealing with when I'm there- so for now, I'll just plan on listing the song.We'll see if I can keep it up, but here is my tune for the "one week out" post:
"Wildflowers": Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, & Emmylou Harris from their album Trio
I feel quite a bit fonder about home than the song suggests, but the rest of it is fairly fitting.  Enjoy!

That's it for now! Thanks for reading, and I can't wait to see what I have to share over the next 2 years!