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!