Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Oh, hello. I didn’t see you there. Patiently waiting for six months, are we?

I know you’re probably thinking that, having not written anything for so long it will be close to impossible to catch up on everything, and I hope you’re prepared to be wrong. Let the brevity of this sink in. Once it does, you’ll get an accurate grasp of daily life in Zambezia for me.

First I’ll go back and recap everything that happened since my last visit until the beginning of this month.
1) I bought about twenty new capulanas. Admittedly that may be a conservative number.
2) I had matching dresses made for my site mate, Gina, and myself in order to comfortably indulge ourselves at an Indian food buffet.
3) An all-too-short trip to the States.
4) A breast exam by the Peace Corps medical doctor that can only be described as two karate chops to the chest and a check of the armpit gland. Cancer free in 2011!
5) One meeting with my official partner organization, FGH, because the boss of our supervisors actually made an in-person visit. Any activity or positive impact resulting from this meeting has yet to appear.
6) I watched the Super Bowl at an undisclosed location.

So, that sums up from (US) fall ’10 to March ’11. Not a bad few months, if I do say so myself. No malaria, no ghastly car accidents, and I came back to finish my service even though for four weeks I was in the grasp of all the temptations the States have to offer.

As for lately, my life is getting a bit exciting. I have two goals for this year: the first is to fund a community mural project for my girls group, and the second is to help organize and fund a small children’s library at a local orphan center. For both of these it is simply a question of getting paperwork in order and navigating the difficulties of transporting anything in Mozambique –and I mean information or tangible goods. So for now I’m trying to focus on getting funds and not thinking about how I would find and ship books, or fit a ladder on public transportation.

I have also recently visited my good friend at her beach-side site. I love the place for any number of reasons: excellent tailors, beautiful capulana market, bars one can dance at, fresh and greasy apas (it’s like a breakfast burrito, only instead of anything remotely healthy it has a thick tortilla folded around a deep-fried egg marinating in ketchup and mayo), the best matapa I’ve ever eaten, and of course Margaret who is wonderful, beautiful, and as passionate about capulana wardrobes as I am, if not more. However, there is one downside: every time I go I end up being eaten alive by an unknown insect, bug, or allergy. I can’t decide what it is that is attacking my skin, but it’s isolated to my thighs or torso, and it usually only picks one side of my body to feast on. I’m not kidding when I say there are more square inches of my stomach taken up by bites than not. The latest count is fifty-three, and the most fun part about it is that I don’t wake up with these bites. How boring that would be. Instead, I wake up and find myself bite-free, and then throughout the day they appear. My working theory is that the bites are actually demons sent from the fiery pits of the Underworld to act as a counterbalance to the state of happiness I am in when I’m visiting Margaret. You may think that sounds extreme, but one look at the ruthless execution of such torture and you’ll agree that mere mosquitoes, bedbugs, or spiders couldn’t carry out such an intense war strategy. Their ultimate goal may be for me to scratch my stomach out, and if so they are certainly making good progress.

As I write this, I am waiting for an FGH car to pick me up. Already tardy three hours, I have a feeling it may have forgotten about me. Unfortunately I can’t get my coordinator on the phone, so my only course of action is to stay in my house and hope the car eventually makes it. I think the inefficiency of FGH was surprising and a bit startling at first, but now it’s become amusing and, oddly, reliable. Yes. If there’s one thing I feel confident saying about FGH, it is that all of its systems that I have encountered are reliably unreliable. Cheers to that.

So I take my leave, but not before I share this gem:

During a ride with two other PCV’s, the driver proceeds to tell us that he happens to have a gun in the car, one that he carries with him. He hasn’t ever fired it on anyone, but when someone calls him ‘macunha’, or any other word in a local language that, essentially, means ‘whitey’, he takes out his gun, points it at them, and says,
“Call me whitey one more time.”

I have never been a gun advocate, but I do find myself jealous of such a bold move. It makes my stern lectures on respect seem a bit, well, unimpressive. I do hear one can buy guns down south in Inhanbane…

Monday, March 1, 2010

It is a fine, muggy, day here in Quelimane. Yes, I have traveled to the big city (perhaps I could call it the Big Mango?) for a very important work meeting. We are all gathered here to wait a lot, report on the water hauling and charcoal cooking we have done, and fabricate a two year plan for our communities. Alright, not all of our reports will be made up, but I am pretty sure most of mine will be. As far as that is concerned, I am playing the unfamiliarity-card. I am unclear how I can help my community, as I have yet to meet and understand the groups that are operating within it. It is only safe, and thus smart, I believe. But, when your boss demands a plan there is little alternative, and thus my homework begins.

I suppose I should add that I am basing my plan on the little I HAVE seen, and what I would WISH to do in a perfect, underdeveloped world. So I am going on something, but it is certainly more intuition than knowledge.

It is a sure thing that you are all thinking the same thing, and yes. I did almost get robbed yet again. That's a solid two for three on the attempted robberies, which is not a bad record. It is a passing grade here in Mozambique, and a batting average that I would not have been loath to have during my old college softball days. Not that I have ever really understood bagtting averages. But were I to, I am confident I would appreciate the good reliability that the theifs are displaying. This time it was in the central market, and I believe a different man, but he razored my purse! It was a very rude operation, especially since he was so sinister and sneeky about it I didn't even know he had cut the poor satchel until hours later. The poor thing. I slit that is growing every day, and I am terribly remiss in washing it too. It's a hard knock life, being a bag of mine in Mozambique.

It is also a hard life being my neighbor. I won't use any names, so as to protect identities in such a sensitive story, but we can just use João, Maria, and Ninho. João and Maria are married, and João is a professional curandeiro, or tranditional healer. Maria, however, takes a liking to Ninho who is a fresh, innocent bread maker and seller, and begins to woe him. He, not fully understanding the twisted world of love, believes in her passion and they consummate their love. Two years later, the maid of João informs him of their infidelity and he is enraged! The issue is taken to a community tribunal, which decides that Ninho should pay a large fine for his indiscretion. He finds the money and attempts to pay João, but João is not having it. Filled with pride and, apparently, and distaste for tainted money, he demands only that Ninho leave the neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods. Ninho, being the young and stubborn man that he is, refuses. At this point, Maria has moved out of her house and is living with her mother, afraid for her safety. João, growing more and more infuriated every day with Ninho's refusal to remove, begins to threaten the life of the Dona of Ninho's house, or the woman who owns it. She, being cautious and unsure of the validity of the threats, has now evicted Ninho. Within a week he is gone. What's his plan now? To build a new house across the street from João, of course!
More, in the next Dias de nossas Vidas (Days of our Lives).
It IS like a telenovela, or soapopera, right?

Well, time to get serious about being a serious volunteer.

Until next time: stay safe and be thankful that women in the US generally don't have small incisions made in their skin, then filled with a grain of rice which is removed a few days later, all to create raised scarifications that allow for a man to get pleasure from a woman.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Hello, you.
It has been ages since I last came to you, and while I apologize I would also like to reassure you that it is most likely that nothing of real excitement has happened since then.
I did plant a garden. And like any activity, gardening in Mozambique turned out to be different than gardening in the States. Not that I have ever gardened in the States, since I have not. But I have dug some holes, and walked in other people's gardens, and watched a few people gardening, so I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what it looks like. If you are a gardener, I am sure you would fully appreciate the trauma of going to create a new garden, and discovering that the entire plot is filled with trash. I promise I am not being overly sensitive. It wasn't a pop bottle and a few plastic bags half stuck in the ground. It was some serious piles of trash of any and all nature buried in the ground. I only dug a few feet deep, so I may never know just how deep it went, but for me there was no escape. My two conclusions are that 1) that space had been used as an extremely large trash pit and then covered back up or 2) someone thought they might be able to grow the products that they buried. I am here to tell you that even if you do plant an old syringe, a syringe-tree will not grow. Sadly. Nor will plastic-bag-vines, or glass-bottle-bushes. Disappointment of a most acute kind must have met with whoever it was that took such pains to plant these little treasures.
The garden, despite these odds, is growing. My heartiest plant so far is the zucchini, which is a surprise since I had heard that zucchini is impossible to grow here. Perhaps they won't produce. At this point, I don't really care too much. It gave me a week's worth of something to do and now provides me with something to look at every morning, so I'm satisfied.
My latest project is a girls' group that I am taking over from a PCV that started it last year. It is a group that will be between six and ten girls in the secondary school, and is focused on health, education, gender roles, and, if my impression proves correct, dance performances. What dance has to do with HIV or gender equality is still a little obscure, but I am sure they will, in time, make me see why the group should be so focused on dancing on national holidays. So far I have hosted one meeting, so there isn't much to report other than the new knowledge that I have a extremely hard time understanding fourteen year old girls who speak Portuguese quickly in a classroom that echoes a lot. Who would have thought?
I have been privileged enough to collect a few new common myths. Most of them I have gotten from conversations with my neighbor, who is proving to be a good source for learning about common misconceptions. And he bakes bread. A very convenient combination.
1)Animals automatically transfer their blood to a person when they bite a person.
2)If a ferocious animal bites a person, their strange blood will cause the person to die and then turn into that animal. The solution to this is to go to a traditional healer and have your blood let in small, ornamental lines on your chest, waist, or forearm.
3)Every mean animal has venom. This includes, but is not limited to, the lion, crocodiles (which I recently learned live in the bush around my town), hippopotamus, all snakes, hyenas, and domestic dogs.
4)All African Americans can speak and understand Portuguese.
5)There are only approximately 200 African Americans in the USA.
6)Jackie Chan and Jet Lee are brothers.
7)Gray hair comes from not getting enough rest, thus if a PCV goes on holiday to the US and rests enough she will come back with no gray hair! (I made this myth up, when Gina's students were teasing her about having come back from the States with youthfully brown hair. I am pretty sure they believed me, which I'm ok with but hope doesn't somehow come back to haunt me.)
8)The reason I don't want a second boyfriend in Mozambique is because I don't like black people. (I'm not so sure two years is going to be long enough to dispel this one, but I am trying one person at a time. Although, there is one obvious solution...)
It may be interesting to know that I was slightly electrocuted when I foolishly decided to watch a movie with earbuds in during a storm. Please believe me when I say that not only is it not fun, but it is also terrifying and surprising to be electrocuted by a power surge caused by lightning. Don't worry, though. My hearing quickly returned to normal and my love for Harry Potter movies is not even close to being diminished. Not that I can watch them anymore, since my computer's speakers and audio jack were fried...

I believe that is all for now. I will leave off with this last request:

please be careful what you donate to clothing drives, because one never knows when that old t-shirt with the Confederate flag will end up being worn by a Mozambican.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Ok, usually I do this one handed, although the eight-year-olds can do it no-handed...

Oh, hello again! I just thought I might impart a few lessons that I have learned here in the lovely, trucker-paradisaical city I am in in Zambezia. Ok, here we go!

One) If they say it is coconut cake, that doesn't mean it is.
One day I stumbled on a delicious little sweet bread that was coconut and since then I have asked every vendor of breadish things if they are coconut, and most times (since many people selling bread-like things sit together) the person I ask will say no, and then I start to leave and another person will say yes and I will buy it, only to find out later that it is not coconut. It is just flour cake. That's what people call cake that literally has no kind of flavoring. I think they feel me out, whether I want it to be coconut or not, and then change their answer depending on how I react. I have lost most of my faith in responses, which doesn't seem to stop me from buying more sweet breads and trying to find that illusive coconut cake.

Two) Never ask an entire group of kids their names.
This is because when you ask an entire group, their names are likely to be hard to remember because they are not names you are used to, and then they know your name and when you see the kids next, you will not (that is a near guarantee) remember theirs, and then you feel like a jerk. Just a big, foreign, confused and confusing jerk woman. Lesson to be learned? Ask one kid one at a time, or don't ask at all.

Three) Always add twenty-four hours to the estimate.
So far, Mozambican-time has taken on a new meaning. My few experiences with approximated deadlines or meeting-times or construction-times have all left me with the belief that in Mozambique, everyone just adds a day onto things. So if that work meeting is scheduled for 7:30 am, make it 8:30 am the next day. The government electrician? I would add a solid 26 hours on to the appointed time. An informal work contract? Don't even attempt, because that would be silly and fruitless.

Four) One can never escape Michigan.
In two weeks, in my city alone, I have seen two Michigan ( Go Blue and Maize!) shirts. One was being sported by a man that certainly seemed to know he was lookin' good. That, along with the presence of Kellogg brand cereal and cereal-crumbs (Corn Flake crumbs make that chicken you just killed extra delicious) has made it apparent that either Michiganian tastes are oddly similar to Mozambican tastes, or Michigan is making its way in the world. Or, possible, Michiganders donate a lot of clothing.

Five) Never try to use anything to its fullest extent.
This is, for now, reserved for electrical appliances. I add this, because my power was out for at least two days due to the fact that I attempted to use both hotplates on my electric stove-top. I know, I know. A rooky mistake and certainly one I will not be making again. But at least I learned that I can start a charcoal fire, and that I cannot use my stove as it was made to be used, otherwise mysterious things will happen and all the electricity will flee.

Six) Vigilance.
This one is simple. I was walking in the market area one day, minding my own business and thinking about a straw mat that I wanted to buy. Walking in a fairly wide street and with a look of determined bargaining on my face seemed to beg for someone to sexually harass me. Which they did. Swatted the ol' bum, they did. Which just goes to show that a person can never be too vigilant about their personal bubble. I need to fashion mine out of titanium, I think. And until then, I will now never let my guard down, or my purse to stray from covering up my butt.

Seven) When life hands you two bathrooms, politely decline.
That is what I have. Two bathrooms. And it sounds nice, but really it is just a silly waste of space. If I used them both as bathrooms, I would be using twice the amount of water to flush, and I just don't like carrying water THAT much. And as far as using one as storage or a pantry goes, the toilet and inconveniently placed sink-hole, along with the inability to take the door off its hinges put that plan to its death. So, I am sure someone can make lemonade out of this packet of Crystal Light, but I am not that person.

Eight) If you steal something, just keep walking.
Really. I saw a boy steal a man's hat from the road. The man was on a motorcycle and he was stopped and was fixing it or tinkering with it before he went back for the hat, and in that time a boy stole it. The man yelled at him and even pursued him, but the boy just kept walking and that was that. The man physically touched him, but since the boy didn't just give it back, the man gave up. Just like that. So the next time I want that nice, solid bookcase I may just test the theory. If I keep walking, will they do anything?

I think that about wraps it up for now. Until next time, remember: you can't start a charcoal fire by putting charcoal on a plastic bag and then setting the bag on fire. Sadly...

Estou a pedir sua casa. (I am asking for your house)

A View from the Top... actually a view between the metal bars on my veranda.

It has been so long since I filled you in on what is happening that I don't really know where to start. So, I am going to write down my impressions of my community at random and hopefully it will make sense or occur to me in some kind of order. Ready? Ok! (By the way, have I told you that ok is used here and translates to ok, but is usually accompanied by some kind of grunt?)

1)I had communicated my concerns about living with a manual-flush toilet in the house before, and I am happy to report that I had every right to be concerned. I have not one, but two manual-flush toilets which not only use a LOT of water to properly flush, but smell very bad very quickly when you do not properly flush them. A common thought in the mornings for me these days is “Where is my latrine?” If only I could build one... wait a minute...
2)I have seen a woman walking around town in a sexy witch costume that I am pretty sure I saw either at a Meijer, or in the Oriental Trading Catalogue. Either way, she was sportin it with a pretty good attitude. About thirty minutes later, I saw a man wearing what I can only assume was originally the accompanying hat. On a man. And it was sunny, so I can't imagine why he wouldn't wear it. And now we all know what happens when someone donates a Halloween costume to a clothing drive that benefits Africa. It gets sold to unsuspecting Mozambican citizens who then wear what cannot be very comfortable costuming as daily-wear.
3)My village may or may not be a glorified truckstop. Come sundown, which is at about six pm over here, and only getting earlier as the summer starts to wane, trucks pull over for the night. This means that the market has a few more choices, and the area is a little more built up, but also it means that I should be inside my house by sundown. Truckers attract a lot of, shall we say, unsavory, informal business ventures that usually involve women.
4)I have seen goats in places that one would never expect to see a goat. Tied up to the back of a bicycle. On top of a semi-truck fully loaded with lumber. And skinned, about five feet away from me in the middle of a neighborhood on the side of the path.
5)Twenty liters of water is not as heavy as it would seem to be. That is the amount the container holds that I haul my water in, and I heave that thing right on up to my head. It is all an illusion, I think, since the actual action is pretty easy, but it looks so tough. However, doing it has earned me a little street-cred with the local ladies around the pump. They laughed the first few times, and I think by now I am being accepted as just one of the gang.
6)I do not pay for the electricity used by my bathroom lights. This is a recent revelation, and an exciting one. One night I was preparing to cook some tortillas, to accompany the beans I had made that afternoon, for dinner and was foolish enough to think I could have BOTH burners of my little stove on at the same time. Silly me. Something happened and the stove made a pop and then the electricity in my house went out. The box that controls is is turned off and nothing works... excepting the bathroom lights! And since the box is how I buy my electricity (it is prepaid, like most things here, and I just buy credit and type in a code on the box and it credits my house), then the fact that the bathroom lights work means that I don't pay for it! Hello, twenty-four hour toilet illumination!
7)Fist-sized spiders DO exist! And, thanks to the genius that put in a drop ceiling in this crazy duplex in Mozambique (now we know why drop-ceilings weren't part of the traditional housing here), I have what I can only assume is a good-sized nest or infestation of them above my bed, kitchen, clothing, everything. I am almost positive they live up there, since about every other night one seems to drop down from the ceiling onto the ground, and skitter haphazardly around the room until I kill it. I think they get a bit groggy from the drop, which is why they almost drunkenly wander around from thing to thing, never climbing the walls, and it is also why I can kill them. The entire situation is pretty gross.
I take my leave with this little ruby of wisdom I saw on the t-shirt a boy was wearing:
Bangs Are Sexy

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Greetings from beautiful Zambezia. I am, right now, accessing the internet at a hotel that has free wireless, and I want to thank you (if you are American) for the chance, since it is YOUR tax dollars at work that fund the organization that has been given a PCV that is my friend and offered me the access. So thank you.

Yestday I saw my house! Sadly, it was from the road. We traveled through my new hometown and saw the house but couldn't stop. It is great, bar-front property with a lovely, treeless yard. A duplex, which is almost like having a free, human security system because generally Mozambicans know what is going on in their neighbors houses. It doesn't look like it has a latrine, which is a major disappointment for me. I can live without the mango trees, papaya trees, fence, and porch. However, I was really wanting a latrine. I know what you're thinking: but Melissa, not having a latrine means having an inside toilet! Yes. Exactly. So imagine that you have a toilet, and it is inside, and it is not an automatic flush. This is a little hard for a lot of people, so I will be explicit. A manual flush toilet never really fully flushes, since you have to force the waste into the piping system using only the natural force of gravity and water. I, as it turns out, am not quite tall enough to be able to get the necessary acceleration when I pour water out of a bucket to actually clear the toilet. So now I have a cement house with a tin roof (read: the hottest house you can have. Like a toasty little people oven!) and a toilet that is housing some remnants of my waste. Oh latrine, how I want you. But at least this way I won't have to buy an extra bucket for my xi-xi bucket, which saves me about two dollars.

Yesterday we did stop in the ol' town to have a quick lunch on the road. A boy asked me for money (estou pedir= i am asking, which quickly turns into a loathsome phrase), so I told him that I am going to be living and working in his town by Wednesday. He gave me an up-and-down look, and walked away. Clearly I wasn't worth asking twice.

I must be going now. I have to prepare for a party we are going to with our new supervisors. It is important, I think, to form good relationships right off the bat, and create opportunities for direct, open communication. And with a beer in you, it is easier to let go of language inhibitions.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

So this is how public transportation from city to city works. You get on a chapa, which is a lovely, often bug-infested, plastic-coated seat van that seats between 24-30 people, depending on the size of the people. And no, this is not like a cargo van. It is about the size of an average minivan. Then, as the chapa gets going out of the city, you stop for gas. At every stop, people crowd the windows to try to sell you homomake freezepops (in sandwich bags, made with what i am sure is clean water), roasted cashews, or chicken stock. Once on the road again, someone inevitably closes all the windows, trapping in the luxurious amount of body heat and odors. Then, your chapa will either get a flat tire, or like yesterday the radiator will overhead three different times. This allows for a breezy break at the side of the road, since the engine is underneath the passenger seats, not in the front of the van. Stretch your legs, but please try not to get hit by the speeding, sometimes careening traffic, as my host-sister did two years ago (inflicting permanent back damage). Load back in, perhaps get peed on by a chicken or a small child, and hold your tonge if you see that child (hopefully at least 6 months old) being fed Fanta from a bottle. Eh. It is better than a lot of other things anyway. Once you near the end, pay the conductor in exact change as most people do not like to give change. Ever.
Safely arrive at your destination, disembark, pull the sweat-soaked shirt away from your back, and enjoy wherever you end up.