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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