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!