Monthly Archives: October 2015

3 Smiles and a Struggle: Mozambican Laughter, Dancing with Kids, Group Fish, and Overwhelm

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I was smiling first thing this week when we visited our neighbor’s house to buy capulanas. You may remember from earlier that capulanas are rectangular patterned fabrics that can be used for anything. In this case, we were picking out a capulana that Alex and I can get matching clothes made out of. Apparently, this is a thing that married couples do here. In fact, our neighbor brought out a shirt of his and a dress of his wives’ that are made out of the same capulana. Mae insisted that Alex and I do this. So, there we were sifting through the sea of capulanas to find our favorite. We picked our capulana and I breathed a joking sigh of relief and told the neighbors that I am happy I won’t lose my husband now and that I will be able to find him in the street. Whether they were laughing at me or laughing with me I am not sure. But they were laughing. Hard. And I realized how generally easy it is to make Mozambicans laugh. Smile number one!

Smile number two this week came during one of my favorite, most joyful moments of Peace Corps so far. Peace Corps is very big on cross-cultural exchange, meaning that we are supposed to teach Mozambicans American stuff and they are supposed to teach us Mozambican stuff. It’s pretty instinctual of course, and happens often. Every week our whole Peace Corps group gets together for sessions that are usually on the more unpleasant side of things (sexual assault, traffic accidents, alcohol abuse, war), for some more vaccinations (three cheers for free rabies vaccines…so expensive), and for official cross-cultural exchange called Ngoma time. We have seen some of our fellow trainees rap, play instruments, act, and blow us away with a baton twirling routine. We have seen some great Mozambican dance groups, a fashion show of capulana clothes, and performances of songs. Yesterday, we beckoned passing children to join in a game we were teaching to our fellow trainees and Mozambican Peace Corps staff. The kids stuck around when the final trainee group turned on their speaker to teach the cha cha slide. What ensued was a 45 minute dance party with all the group dance songs that are played at American weddings. There we were in the soccer field, 60 Americans and perhaps 20 primary school kids, just dancing. One little girl grabbed my hand at the very beginning and that was that. We were dance partners. Dancing. Kids. Mozambican sunset. After a stressful week of language tasks, these moments of dancing and laughing filled me to the brim and reminded me of the things that are simple and universal.

Photo Cred to Morgan Currie

Photo Cred to Morgan Currie

The third smile must be attributed to my language group, Group Fish. Our name comes from a slang word in Portuguese: Fish. Yep…it’s the American word ‘fish’ and after our teacher informed us during week 1 that it means ‘cool’ or ‘nice’ here-when said with a thumbs up- he began to mime swimming like a fish and told us he loves the word because to him it means you can be free and happy like a fish swimming in the sea with no problems. Forevermore, we are Fish. Over the past 4 weeks, the five of us and our teacher have developed a great flow, and language classes are my favorite part of the day and the week. Having only gals in the group has created a very…open environment. I feel like I’ve known these girls for years and our teacher only made the environment better with his great sense of humor and personality. This was potentially our last week as Group Fish, as we completed our first language test and our groups may change depending on our growth. But how lucky I feel to have started the Peace Corps journey with this group.

Photo Cred to Alejandra Genevieve

Photo Cred to Alejandra Genevieve

Between the nostalgia of group Fish finales and the joy of the impromptu dance party, this week was probably the most joyful week yet, but it was also very intense. The struggle this week was with general overwhelm. We are almost halfway through our training now and this week we had to teach our first mini-lesson in Portuguese, do our first Portuguese speaking test, and complete a number of essay questions about training so far…one of which was in Portuguese. There was a lot of confusion and stress among the group and we are all looking quite forward to tomorrow, as we will all split off to all corners of the country to visit currently serving volunteers and get a taste of Peace Corps life…and, for me, a taste of the beaches of the Indian Ocean 🙂

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Dona da Casa

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It started with Mãe.

About 2 weeks ago, mãe had to go to South Africa for her brother-in-law’s funeral. This meant leaving us in the house and expecting us to cook, bathe, and hold down the fort independently….

with the help of her sister, who lives across the street and made sure to check on us multiple times. During our homestay time we have found that just when we think we’ve got something down a Mozambican mãe will tell us we are doing it wrong or correct us on minor details of accomplishing a task. In the case of the ‘South Africa free-for-all,’ ( 😉 ), Alex and I were proudly cooking spaghetti in the darkness of another power outage when mãe’s sister appeared in the kitchen and informed us that we were using all the wrong spoons and needed to remove a lid from one pot and put a lid on the other.

Spaghetti.

We cook it a lot at home. But somehow cooking spaghetti here makes us feel like kindergartners.

Spoons aside, we must have done something right because being ‘on our own’ for a day and a half allowed me to earn a new title from mãe: Dona da Casa. I think it’s a compliment.

I knew that ‘dona’ means owner and can be used when talking about businesses and restaurants. I found an appealing definition in my Portuguese-English dictionary for dona da bola: big boss (fam). But I am now the dona da casa. Does it mean owner of the house? No. Big boss of the house? I wish.

It means housewife. Who would’ve thought.

In the States a housewife is a married woman who takes care of all house business and does not have a job outside the house. Personally, I always picture housewives having children, but I suppose they don’t have to have children. And I would argue that this title is generally outdated and has been replaced by more ‘chique’ and acceptable terms that give more credit to these women.  When someone uses the term housewife, it draws up images of big hair, homemade cake, and afternoon soap operas.

For me anyways.

Now, whenever mãe sees me sweeping, chopping, cooking, or cleaning she looks at me and says, ‘dona da casa, Cecelia.’ I also earn honorable mentions from mãe when I do something that she generally likes or is impressed by, like cooking butternut squash for lunch all by myself or hanging laundry on the line. Apologies to Alex, who earns no special title for completing the same tasks. Maybe I will start calling him dono de casa/ househusband. That term doesn’t exist, but I think that can be changed.

So, for about 10 days it was just mãe who was on the dona da casa train. And occasionally Alex. But yesterday afternoon my teacher jumped on the train too, and with no spurring from mãe. Every day I joke with my lingua group when I arrive and leave by saying ‘Olá meninas,’ and ‘Tchau meninas.’ Basically, ‘Hey girls,’ and ‘Chow girls.’ But yesterday our lingua teacher tried to put an end to me being just another menina in Moz.

‘Não Cecelia, elas são meninas mas tu es a dona da casa.’ No, Cecelia, they are girls but you are the housewife.’

But…I just want to be a menina! I tried to explain to him that I don’t know everything that’s needed to be a dona da casa. Basically I tried to convince him that, although I am married, I am still one of the gals.

It didn’t work. My role in society is forever changed.

Signed,

The hopeless housewife.

Cooking butternut squash with nothing but a charcoal stove definitely upped my dona da casa status.

Cooking butternut squash with nothing but a charcoal stove definitely upped my dona da casa status.

3 Smiles and A Struggle: Small Friends, Rain, the Radio, and the Chicken-Killing Dilemma

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Well, nearly one short month has passed since we left Colorado. One long month too 🙂 Here in Namaacha we’ve fallen into pretty easy routines. Our time is split between Portuguese language classes, technical job training for the discipline we will be teaching, and health, cross-cultural, and safety and security trainings as a whole group. Tomorrow begins our fourth week of training. At the end of this week we will have our first Portuguese language speaking test to check our progress, then our group will split off to all corners of the country for a chance to visit currently serving PCV’s (Peace Corps Volunteers) and get a sense of what PCV life is like.

The first smile this week was because of friends under the age of 10 years old (my fave people 😉 ). First, I received my first declaration of friendship from an adorable 7-year-old neighbor named Winnie. Winnie likes to stop by and color, strum the guitalele, and ask us for sweets. This week she looked at me and said, “Meu companao.” My friend. Yes! I officially made a friend in Moz. The next day, I received a Facebook message from a parent of a student in Fraser, saying that every week he asks to log on to Facebook and see what Miss Cece is doing. It’s great to know that my lovely EGSD students are still thinking of me and are curious about what’s going on in Moz. Lastly, my lingua group got the chance to visit an all-girls orphanage. After touring the facilities we spent a bit of time playing games with the girls; We taught them American games and they taught us Mozambican games. This time made me nostalgic for my time spent at the GRC in Kenya, and solidified my desire to work with girls here in Moz.

Meu companao Winnie.

Meu companao Winnie.

Puzzle time at Casa de Gaiata.

Puzzle time at Casa de Gaiata.

The second smile this week came with the first rains of rainy season and the first time in a month that I got to say ‘I am chilly,’ here in Moz. Leggings and long sleeves have been my best friends for the last 3 days. Even though it’s Spring here, the chill in the air is reminding me of the fall back in Colorado, which I am aching for a little bit. To keep with the theme, we  purchased a squash in the market yesterday that will be cooked for dinner today.

The third smile this week is a real little thing: an old-fashioned radio in the kitchen that is always playing fuzzy music in various languages that I don’t understand. Besides the fact that the upbeat Mozambican jams are good for keeping the spirit lifted, having a fuzzy radio playing constantly in the kitchen (against the backdrop of light pink kitchen wall tiles inspired by the colonial era…) makes me feel like I am in a weird time warp and have somehow traveled across the world and into the 1950’s.

Me and mae on dia de cozhinar.

Me and mae on dia de cozhinar.

The struggle this week came on our Dia de Cozinhar, or cooking day. All of the lingua groups got together with all of their maes and together we made an American dish and Mozambican dishes. This was a whole morning of cooking, from 7:30-12:30, because everything is made from scratch. Really, really from scratch. When we planned to make chicken parmesan I completely overlooked the fact that the chicken would need to be killed and processed. The time rolled around and I was wishing we were cooking vegetarian. There were two live chickens and two dull knives. Between the 5 of us in lingua, 1 had already killed a chicken and 1 refused because she is a vegetarian. Then there were 3. In the end, only one of us could stand there and saw the head of a chicken off. It wasn’t me. Our mae offered to let one of us kill the second chicken, but we couldn’t. She went about it in a way that made it look easy; the same way maes go about everything hard. She merely gave the chicken a little slit in the throat and stood with her feet on its wings, talking to us, while the chicken bled out.

Now, this was not a struggle because I think it’s mean to kill chickens for eating. Fresh meat is great, and humans are omnivores after all. I do believe that eating meat is natural for us. But it was a struggle because I felt that if I couldn’t kill the thing myself I didn’t really ‘deserve’ to eat it. The way that animals are killed and processed for meat in the U.S. is pretty icky when I stop to think about it. There’s not much connection to our food; the process certainly isn’t natural. When trying to explain that killing chickens is hard for Americans because hardly anyone kills their own chickens in America, our language teacher asked “Well, then who kills the chickens?” We told him machines do it. You should have seen the confused look on his face… It’s bothered me for a while and my ideal self would only eat meat that Alex and I hunted ourselves or directly knew the source. My ideal self would be able to kill that chicken if I wanted to eat it. But my real self couldn’t. So, there I was feeling queasy as my world shifted a bit and I ran through the moral dilemma in my head: if I can’t feel connected to the source of my food, if I am not okay with it dying/killing it, should I really be eating it? I didn’t come up with an answer, and still haven’t days later. But I am certain that the moment will stick with me. And I’m not giving up on chicken-killing just yet.

The sun rises over Swaziland before it hits Moz. Morning run at the border.

The sun rises over Swaziland before it hits Moz. Morning run at the border.

The Art of Obrigada

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This week I am contemplating obrigada.

Obrigada(o) is the Portuguese word for ‘thank you,’ and I am certain that, 3 weeks into life in Moz, there is no word we have heard more here. I am wondering if Mozambicans are the most grateful people in the world or if saying thank you is habitual or ‘just an expression.’

Sometimes Mozambicans say thank you at a time when I would expect it. Like when I hand someone something and they say thank you or I help with something and they say thank you or I compliment someone and they say thank you.

Most of the time, though, Mozambicans say thank you….

Yes, most of the time Mozambicans say thank you. I’ll just leave it at that.

An exchange that I have many times a day goes like this:

Me: “Bom dia.” or “Boa tarde.” or “Boa noite.”

Mozambican: “Bom dia obrigada.” or “Boa tarde obrigada.” or “Boa noite obrigada.” or “Obrigada.”

Translation:

Good morning (or afternoon or evening).

Good morning (or afternoon or evening), thank you. Or just thank you.

Another exchange:

Me: Ate ja.

Mozambican: ok obrigado.

Translation:

See you soon.

Ok, thank you.

Or perhaps my favorite:

Me: Obrigada pelo refecao. (still haven’t figured out where the accents are on this computer…)

Mae: Obrigada.

Translation:

Thank you for the meal.

Thank you.

Thankfulness and gratitude are great things. And we are reminded of them so many times a day here as everyone tells us obrigada for everything, usually with a big smile on their face. Again, I am not yet sure if Mozambicans are extremely grateful, if they are thanking me just for greeting or noticing them, or if this is just an expression.

But watch out America, because I fully intend to perfect the art of obrigada and bring it home.

Greeting me in 2018 will be like this:

You: Hey

Me: Thanks

You: How are you?

Me: Fine, thanks. (normal)

You: Thanks for inviting us over.

Me: Thanks.

You: Ok, see you later.

Me: Thanks.

But it will still never sound as good as ‘obrigaaada.’

Moz Skillz

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In the kitchen of our homestay house, I tried to pick up as much rapid-fire Portuguese as I could on Friday as our Mae talked to my lingua teacher about Alex and I. They chatted back and forth as if I wasn’t standing there listening, and I stood there listening, smiling, and concentrating hard. From what I could follow, the conversation was about her satisfaction with us as volunteers (trainees) in her home (Yay!), and at one point she began listing off things we can do. I could pick up on it, because it was many of the things that we hear and are told to do every day. She said that we are nice and can do everything we need to do. I am unsure about this one, but her list went something like this: ‘Yes, they know how to preparar a mesa (set the table), limpar pratos (wash dishes), cozhinar matabicho (cook breakfast), lavar roupas (wash clothes), and, my favorite, tomar bano (take a bath).’ I expect that the rest of our service will be a cakewalk now that we’ve learned to bathe ( 😉 ) and I am glad that she is happy with our progress in these basic things that we know how to do but have had to adapt slightly for life here in Mozambique.

I washed clothes for the first time with mae this week and she insisted I take a picture of the clothes hanging up. She said they look so beautiful when they are all hanging up. Laundry consisted of two rounds of dunking and scrubbing clothes and two rounds of rinsing.

I washed clothes for the first time with mae this week and she insisted I take a picture of the clothes hanging up. She said they look so beautiful when they are all hanging up. Laundry consisted of two rounds of dunking and scrubbing clothes and two rounds of rinsing.

The one new skill I learned this week that was something I had never done before was to relar coco (shave coconut). Coconut seems fairly widely used here, especially in combination with peanut flour. We have had a delicious sauce twice since arriving that is coconut, peanut flour, onion, and water. It was great with chicken and fish over white rice, and learning how to get the coconut component to this sauce was in interesting task and one that I think impressed mae even more than our bathing skills.

Mae showing me how to shave fresh coconut. She sits on a little stool that has a sharp-toothed piece of metal on one end. Then you grind the half-coconut against the teeth and the shavings fall into a tub below.

Mae showing me how to shave fresh coconut. She sits on a little stool that has a sharp-toothed piece of metal on one end. Then you grind the half-coconut against the teeth and the shavings fall into a tub below.

Mae directed me here to sit with my legs outstretched, rather than bent, to use my right hand as the strength and my left to guide the shaving motion, and on how to  rotate the coconut to shave it out evenly. By the time I got to the second half I was receiving many a "Muito Bom Cecelia!" Very good, Cecelia :)

Mae directed me here to sit with my legs outstretched, rather than bent, to use my right hand as the strength and my left to guide the shaving motion, and on how to rotate the coconut to shave it out evenly. By the time I got to the second half I was receiving many a “Muito Bom Cecelia!” Very good, Cecelia 🙂

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I got a good laugh out of mae when I showed her that this picture was "antes a forca de Cecelia..." (before the strength of Cecelia)...

I got a good laugh out of mae when I showed her this picture and said it was “antes a forca de Cecelia…” (before the strength of Cecelia)…

...and that this picture was "Depoois a forca de Cecelia." (after the strength of Cecelia)

…and that this picture was “Depois a forca de Cecelia.” (after the strength of Cecelia)

**Disclaimer: I cannot yet be held responsible for the spelling and grammar of Portuguese phrases in my blog posts. It will get better someday..hopefully soon. Yet another Moz skill to learn 🙂

3 Smiles and A Struggle: Speaking ‘Well,’ Neighborly Support, Our Anniversaries, and the Frequency of Sadness

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Last night I crawled into bed feeling slightly frazzled from the day. One day a week our whole group of 63 meets for training. The majority of our day yesterday was spent talking about malaria and sexual assault. While it’s extremely necessary to talk about these things, these are heavy subjects. After class I came home and our mae told me her brother-in-law died last night from “pain/ sickness in the head.” Just last night I had asked her how he was doing and she had said ‘better.’

So it was a bit of a heavy day, and I got to thinking about how many more heavy days we are going to have here in Mozambique. Some of you may remember this post from post-Kenya travels, in which I wondered how it’s possible to carry the weight of heavy stories and not have a heavy heart.

Knowing that I hold on tightly to things, knowing that people’s personal stories have the ability to affect me a lot, and knowing that life here (as anywhere) is going to be complex, I decided to start posting weekly about 3 positives and 1 struggle of being here. These might be things having to do with Peace Corps life, or they might be things having to do with Mozambique/ Mozambican life. Not only will this help me to keep sight of the positives as we witness the struggles, I hope it will help me and you sort out the complexities of life here.

Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world with high rates of HIV\AIDs, maternal mortality, and malaria. Education is a struggle. Healthcare is a struggle. But, just like I witnessed in Kenya, I know there will be a lot of joy here too. I hope that over time, these posts will help paint a picture of both. Enjoy 🙂

So, for this week:

First smile: Mae telling me she understands my Portuguese more this week, and that I speak ‘well.’ I was even able to make a joke with her in Portuguese the other night about something happening on TV.

Second smile: Mae bringing food to a neighbor who just had a baby, but cannot afford much food for herself or her 4-year-old son.

Third smile: Getting to celebrate 2 years of marriage and 10 years of togetherness with Alex. Sitting out on the patio of a nice restaurant to watch the sunset, and receiving many ‘Parabens’ (congratulations) from PC staff and neighbors.

Struggle: The frequency with which we witness/hear about super sad things here. Coming home from Maputo on Saturday the chapa (small van-bus) I was in hit a small child that ran out in the street. It was pretty much the worst feeling ever. Mae said it happens often here because kids don’t know to stay out of the street and drivers don’t ‘respect’ kids. This child got up and was crying and was immediately taken to the hospital. A couple days later one volunteer’s host sister (that she had never met) died of tuberculosis. That same day, our neighbor had to go to Maputo to have her baby because she was facing complications. She left so quickly that her 4-year-old son was left here pretty much alone, under the care of a grandmother who mae said ‘is not right in the head.’ And then mae’s brother-in-law died. I am wondering when a day will pass here that we won’t hear about or witness this kind of sadness. And, as is the point of these posts, I am trying to make sure I see all the good here too!

Celebrating our anniversaries.

Celebrating our anniversaries.

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Home Sweet Home in Namaacha

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Home Sweet Home in Namaacha

Our days are peaceful here in Namaacha, despite the busy-ness of all-day language classes, whole-group training sessions, homework, and learning all we need to know to be here in Moz for two years. Alex and I have a bit of an unusual situation with our homestay, in a lot of ways. We live with only a mae (mom), whereas most volunteers live with large families and lots of kiddos. Our house is quiet all the time. We live in a beautiful house, with an indoor bathroom. A few of us have running water…but Alex and I don’t have cockroaches either! Our mae has hosted 8 PCT’s (Peace Corps Trainees) before us, and she is very in the know about American preferences and needs: we like to serve our own food, we don’t eat as much as Mozambicans, we prefer to “pray in our house.” However, she still thinks the way Americans peel oranges is “louco.” ( Here, they either cut the orange into slices, or peel it with a knife and cut it in half and slurp it out…there is no peeling with the hands.) She seems fairly liberal (she said we could shower together…) and pretty health conscious (she gives us fruits and veggies with ever meal-which isn’t the case for many trainees- and is always talking about the important vitamins we need for our health.) We appreciate her immensely: she is open and understanding, forgiving and firm. Yes, we have to sweep our room every morning, but it’s okay if we don’t want to go to church. Yes, we can go out with friends after class, but she still involves us in all the housework we need to know. It’s a busy balance here in Namaacha, and although we’ve been here a week, it feels like a month.

Tudo bem! It’s all good.

Home sweet home for the next few weeks! Our homestay house is in Bairro Fronteirra, Border Neighborhood, and our backyard backs up to the border with Swaziland. All of the English teachers live in this neighborhood and we have language and specialty trainings here. Alex has a bit of a walk to get to the Bairro where the science teachers meet.

Home sweet home for the next nine weeks! Our homestay house is in Bairro Fronteirra, Border Neighborhood, and our backyard backs up to the border with Swaziland. All of the English teachers live in this neighborhood and we have language and specialty trainings here. Alex has a bit of a walk to get to the Bairro where the science teachers meet.

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Our clean, spacious bedroom. We got pretty darn lucky with our homestay 🙂

“Alex e cozhina!” Our mae was pretty over the moon after seeing this picture of Alex cooking with her. She could not stop laughing, and Alex said it would probably be like us seeing a picture of a fish driving a car. We try to help our mae cook as much as possible in between language classes, training sessions, and homework. She is determined to teach us everything we need to know to survive in Mozambique. She has had 8 Peace Corps Trainees before us, so she really knows the ropes.

My first kapulana, given as a welcome gift from our mae! Kapulanas, like the kangas we found in Kenya and Tanzania, are multi-use pieces of fabric. Need a wrap after the shower? Kapulana. Need to tie a baby on your back? Kapulana. Need something to wipe your hands on? You guessed it...kapulana. There are also mudistas (seamstresses) here that will make clothes for you out of kapulanas, which I hope to have done this week.

My first kapulana, given as a welcome gift from our mae! Kapulanas, like the kangas we found in Kenya and Tanzania, are multi-use pieces of fabric. Need a wrap after the shower? Kapulana. Need to tie a baby on your back? Kapulana. Need something to wipe your hands on? You guessed it…kapulana. There are also mudistas (seamstresses) here that will make clothes for you out of kapulanas, which I hope to have done this week.

The best items in our house, which we get to use every morning.

The best items in our house, which we get to use every morning.

Even when there's trash in the streets, Namaacha is still beautiful with trees and flowers in bloom.

Even when there’s trash in the streets, Namaacha is still beautiful with trees and flowers in bloom.

Namaacha is at a little more than 3,00 feet and right on the border of Swaziland, South Africa and Mozambique. This is the mountain view right before the Swazi border post.

Namaacha is at an elevation a little more than 3,000 feet and right on the border of Swaziland, South Africa and Mozambique. This is the mountain view right before the Swazi border post.

Running in our Bairro as the sun creeps up. We are getting into the summer season in Namaacha and experiencing some serious heat...we are NOT quite used to that and know it's going to get hotter. But we get great sunrises and sunsets, and it's usually cool before about 8a.m. :)

Running in our Bairro as the sun creeps up. We are getting into the summer season in Namaacha and experiencing some serious heat…we are NOT quite used to that and know it’s going to get hotter. But we get great sunrises and sunsets, and it’s usually cool before about 8a.m. 🙂

Until next time 🙂