Monthly Archives: December 2015

A Very Merry Mapinhane Christmas

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This was the first Christmas of our 26 years that Alex and I have had without family around us. It seemed odd, and we offered early on to host Christmas for other Peace Corps Volunteers in our area. For many of them it was the first Christmas away from home and/or away from family as well.

This Christmas looked a lot different for many of us: we didn’t have family around, there was no snow on the ground, there were not many presents, and just a bit of decoration. We did our best with festive music and movies, and we ate, drank, and stayed merry for our first Moz Christmas.

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A happy entryway full of friends’ shoes 🙂

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Tent city in our backyard.

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Eating well! Christmas Eve morning cinnamon rolls, baked both dutch oven and toaster oven style.

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Dish Elves have a lot of work with 13 people in the house.

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Andrew reliving his happy childhood EZ Bake oven days by helping out with sugar-cookie making.

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Success, sprinkled with American Christmas joy!

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Christmas chalk art gallery.

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The lighting of the palms, using battery-powered LED lights.

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Our PCV fam after everyone hung a paper ornament on the tree and shared a Christmas memory or tradition with the group.

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Christmas morning with tropical mimosas, chocolate peanut butter cake, mango crumble, eggs, and coffee.

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The happiest faces are the faces about to drink mimosas.

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All the ugly capulanas wrapped up under the tiny tree.

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Ugly capulana white elephant exchange complete. Next step: we all make these fabrics into clothes to wear to our next conference.

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Hand-crafted gingerbread. Some things are essential.

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Cooks in the kitchen for Christmas tacos.

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Twas the day after Christmas…and no one had a rain fly. Twas the day after Christmas and all through the house, people were sleeping to avoid getting doused..

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Typical PCV evening.

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Christmas is: being happy, sharing joy, cherishing tradition, and accepting change.

 

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The Bat, The Spider, and The Door that Wouldn’t Open

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I thought it was a cockroach. A large cockroach. I heard the fluttering of wings hitting the bedroom wall, the trash can, the floor. Cockroaches are erratic, bouncing off the walls in nonsensical flight patterns.

“Did you hear that too?” Alex asked me in the darkness.

“Mmm,” I groaned, trying to ignore it and drift back to sleep.

We heard the fluttering near our bedroom door. Alex un-tucked the mosquito net and crawled out, partly to investigate the noise, partly to go relieve himself.

“Ohhh that’s a bat!” I heard, as Alex pushed the door closed, leaving only a crack to peer out. After realizing the bat’s close proximity to our room, he shut the door, and we were left wondering what to do with a bat inside our house.

After a minute the fluttering stopped.

Alex tried to open the door and investigate. The door was stuck; not locked, just stuck. We were stuck in our room, with what seemed like a dying bat just outside the door. We realized that even if we chose to go back to bed and deal with it all in the morning, we had to no way of letting someone into our house to assist us from the other side of the door. We had no tools in our room, as I had put them on our ‘utility’ shelf in the entryway. We have grates on our windows…so no way to crawl out in the morning and borrow tools from someone. We had one pocketknife, nail clippers, bobby pins, a credit card, and past knowledge from being locked in rooms by siblings and from seeing stuff in movies.

And, Alex still had to pee.

“You can pee in the trash can. I wouldn’t judge you,” I told him

The trash can has holes in the bottom.

“You can pee in that bucket on the top shelf that catches water from the roof leak.”

Eh.

“You could stand on the bedside table and pee out the window.”

Eh. Searching looks.

Over the next 30 minutes, we tried all methods of escape. We tried unscrewing and taking the door handle off. We tried slipping the credit card between the door and the door jam to wiggle the latch free. We tried fiddling with the lock. We tried a lot of yanking and jiggling. Finally, Alex slipped his knife between the door and the door jam, using leverage to pry the door open. The tip of the knife broke off, but we were free.

“Careful, now there’s a knife tip somewhere out here…and maybe a dead bat,” he said.

Opening the door just a crack, he peered out at the still creature on the floor.

“Ya dead buddy?” he asked it, poking it with a decorative arrow that he had taken down off our bedroom wall.

Nothing.

“I think it’s dead. But now it’s between me and the xi-xi bucket.”

Quick pause. A xi-xi (pronounced she-she) bucket is a bucket kept in the house, used only for peeing in during the night when you don’t want to leave the house to go to the actual bathroom. Each day it is emptied and cleaned. It might seem real gross that we pee in a bucket, but it’s actually a wonderful invention. It beats going outside in the darkness and, on this night in particular, the downpour.

The dead bat was covered with a frisbee, and with some nervous sounds and scampering movements, Alex got past the bat and into the room across the hall. Xi-xi success!

Next, we swept the bat-under-frisbee outside onto the back deck, removed the frisbee, and hoped that a neighborhood cat would eat the bat in the night.

We were laughing and feeling successful. It was 3a.m and we were ready to go back to bed. I was sitting on the bed, under the mosquito net, Alex was standing in the doorway when he jumped out of the way of something.

“That was really big spider,” he said.

It scuttled away into hiding, near our shoes. We could not leave it there. I came out from under the mosquito net to aid in the capture and killing of the creature we now call Carl the Camel Spider. Decorative arrow in hand, Alex poked around in the shoes to scare Carl out of hiding. I held a headlamp and kept my eyes peeled. A minute later, the power was out and we were in shadows, searching. It wasn’t long before we retreated to bed, listening to the thunder and squeaks of still more bats in our false ceiling, and dreaming of how we used to live somewhere so cold that no creepy crawlies could survive.

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“I think one of the lizards probably ate Carl, right?” Alex asked me at breakfast the next morning.

“Sure,” I said, trying to convince myself that Carl was no longer lurking in some shadow of our house.

It took me until noon to work up the courage to near Carl’s lair to get dressed and put on shoes. The decorative arrow worked as my extended hand as I lifted clothes and shoes, poking around and shaking things out. Carl was nowhere to be seen, still at large somewhere in our house. Each step in our bedroom, each lifting of an item, was met with caution…and fear.

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Beware of Carl.

It wasn’t until 6:30 p.m, as I was cooking dinner, that Carl made his whereabouts known; Alex heard him behind a piece of fabric in the bedroom.

“Ahhh, move! He’s coming your way!” I heard Alex yell from the bedroom as he sprayed bug-killin’ spray.

Just as I saw Carl enter the kitchen, I skirted around him onto the front porch jumping and yelling,”Aranha! Aranha!”-spider, spider- only to be met with quizzical looks from students passing by.

I returned to find puddles of Baygon bug spray-the best invention ever, and completely necessary for defense against Mozambican creepy crawlies- around the kitchen. It was determined that Carl had escaped once again, and was hiding behind the open pantry door.

Earlier in the day I had been texting a friend about our run-in with the camel spider. She asked me if they bite, if they are poisonous. I told her I didn’t even want to know.

Ignorance is bliss.

But before long I felt like I needed to know what we were up against.

Knowledge is power.

A quick Google search of camel spiders told me that they are not technically spiders. They are common in Middle Eastern deserts and are also found in the southwestern United States and Mexico…and, apparently, Mozambique although this particular article didn’t say so. They are not venomous but their bites are painful. It is a myth that they chase humans; they are nocturnal and if they appear to be chasing you it’s only because they are trying to hide in the darkness of your shadow. In fact, they are one of the approximately 1,000 species in the order Solifugae, meaning ‘those who flee from the sun.’ And, best of all, a quote that told me that “…in captivity they are quite the divas and require princess-like accommodations to be kept alive.”

So, perhaps Carl was a diva and considered our house to be fit for a princess, but it was his Solifuge nature that interested me most as he sat in hiding in the shadows of our kitchen. I suggested we chase him out using the light of a head lamp, and then kill him dead!

I put on my hiking boots; there would be no camel spider scuttling over my toes. Alex picked up a shovel from our entryway and handed me a heavy basket of magazines to drop on Carl. I held the light, moved our stove gas tank out of the way, and closed the pantry door.

There was Carl, squirming and wiggling, incapacitated from Alex’s excellent earlier shot with the Baygon. Now, he whacked him the shovel.

“He’s still moving,” I confirmed, shining the light on him.

A few more whacks, and we had won.

Carl was left dead on the front porch, a warning to all his friends and relatives.

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Tchau Carl.

Camel Spider info credit to http://www.livescience.com/40025-camel-spiders-facts.html.

3 Smiles and A Struggle: A New Home Sweet Home, Our Beach, Small Triumphs, and The Rollercoaster

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Driving in Inhambane province, on our way to site.

Our first smile this week was getting to our site in Mapinhane, Inhambane. We arrived last Friday afternoon to a clean and beautiful house that was well-kept and made so homey by the girls that lived here before us. Our basic needs were met immediately, save for the small hiccup with our gas stove. We have fans, dishes, furniture, art on the walls, a refrigerator, buckets, tubs, cleaning supplies, towels, sheets…you name it. Our house feels very posh indeed. We are adjusting to life at site. We go into our small town every day to buy what we need for dinner. In Colorado we used to do all of our shopping on Sundays, but here we go day by day so we get a chance to walk around and talk to people. We have met some of our market people, our bread lady, and a number of curious onlookers/small children. We live on our school grounds in the teacher’s neighborhood and are getting to know some of our colleagues. A lot of people have already left, as it is now the start of summer break, but we have spent a couple of nights hanging out in the neighborhood with other teachers. We have a lot of male colleagues, and Alex was pretty instantly accepted by them and is asked almost daily to go play soccer. We have started some house projects: compost, the making of a dutch oven, a handwashing station, and making this house our own. And we have cooked a lot! Right now, the days are long and hot, but this first week flew by. We are staying occupied getting our bearings and getting to know people. Hooray for independence!

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Home sweet home for the next two years!

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My favorite big tree on our school grounds.

Our second smile this week was getting to spend a day at the beach when we had to visit nearby Vilanculos for banking and shopping. It is so nice to have this little piece of paradise just 45 minutes away from our site, easily accessible in a day’s trip if we need a getaway or a nice meal.

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Vilanculos/paradise/where we have to go to the bank.

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Lunch with a view.

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Alex is scared of the crab in is matapa sauce…but I think in two years he will be a pro.

The third smile this week has to be a combination of small successes. There are a lot of moments of feeling awkward and a little bit dumb and really out of place here. This is a struggle to be elaborated on shortly. But these moments only serve to highlight the small successes that much more. We find ourselves triumphant from catching a great ride to Vilanculos on our own, finding and purchasing a bit of charcoal and cooking on our charcoal stove, feeling comfortable washing dishes with no running water, uttering any word of Portuguese that doesn’t elicit a “como?” (what?) from the person we are talking to, and receiving ‘invitations’ to come hang out with our colleagues. It’s become apparent pretty quickly that these are the things that are so valuable to hold on to.

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Alex made us a Mozambican air conditioning system. He hypothesizes that a fan blows colder air if it has a snow picture on it.

Now, that struggle I mentioned. Like I said, we have been here a week, but it feels much longer. I have already felt like this first week has been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, which is probably pretty representative of what this whole journey will feel like. One day I am perfectly content and happy; the next day I am trying not to freak out. Once we arrived at site, with no schedule, no acquaintances, and, generally, no clue, it really hit me that a) we are here for two years and b) we currently know very little about the context of the culture we are going to be living in for these two years. We have been in Mozambique for 11 weeks, but being at site is very different than being in a group of 60 other Americans in a town that is very used to Peace Corps and Americans. I have struggled this week with things I didn’t expect to feel. One of these is intimidation. Usually I am pretty curious and up to talking to anyone, especially when traveling. Usually, I am excited about new challenges. Here, there have been moments when I feel intimidated by the whole situation: the time frame, the job and projects ahead, the language, the expectations. On top of this is feeling real awkward. Again, I am usually not afraid to make mistakes, but at moments the stakes here seem so high to make a good impression, that I find myself constantly wondering if I have greeted someone correctly, if I have offended someone, or if people just think I am a total freak. Lastly, is that feeling of just not having a clue. Sometimes I don’t know what is expected of us in any given moment, I don’t know if I have overpaid/been ripped off for groceries, and I don’t know what is acceptable, even down to the clothes I am wearing.

So, there are a lot of unknowns right now and that fact certainly hit me pretty hard in this past week, as I am sure it will many more times. I am challenging myself to really take this journey day by day, or even moment by moment, to relish in our small successes, and to keep the perspective that this awkward time is just part of personal growth, part of Peace Corps, and part of living in another culture.

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The sunset over our school soccer field.

The Value of a Vizinho

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“You have to be very clever in Mozambique,” Cristóvão told us, as we stood with our leaky gas tank outside a shop in Vilanculos, striking some kind of deal on Saturday.

Cristóvão had greeted us with a smile the day before when we arrived in Mapinhane, our Peace Corps home for the next two years. He walked with us into the teacher’s neighborhood; We discovered that he is our ‘vizinho,’ our neighbor. We stood under a tree in his yard- 3 steps away from our front door- chatting for awhile. He is slight, and nearly always smiling. Even now, during the school break, he seems busy, always going off to arrange something or meet someone. He welcomed us genuinely with his words and his actions.

“Bem vindo, estamos juntos.” Welcome, we are together, he told us. Some of the most popular words in Mozambique. He assured is, in very good English, that he is here to help us with any problems or anything we may need.

So, on Saturday morning, when he came to check in on us, he didn’t hesitate in offering help with our gas tank and stove, which we could not get to work. After fiddling for a while, he fetched another neighbor for help and it was determined that our tank was leaking and we would need to go to Vilanculos and exchange it.

“I am going there now to buy some things,” he told us. “Maybe you can come with.”

Not knowing when or if the bus would come, not knowing where to go or who to talk to about a faulty gas tank, not knowing a fair price for anything, we were guided through our first challenge at site by Cristóvão.

The bus did come, after we waited on the side of the road for more than an hour.

Another hour and we arrived in Vilanculos and were led through the streets to a shop that seemed to sell rice, peanut butter, and oil in bulk, but showed no indication of dealing with gas tanks. We were directed to another shop across the road that had a gas tank outside but couldn’t trade us for a new one because the type we had is not sold in Vilanculos. We were told that they don’t sell new tanks either. We went back to the first shop.

The situation of the leaky gas tank was explained to me in full over the phone by our sitemate: When Vilanculos ran out of gas in June, our sitemate and the girls who were here before us, traveled further north to a different town, where they traded their empty Vilanculos tanks for the full tanks of the variety that we now had with us. We could go there and maybe trade back for a Vilanculos tank. Maybe.

You have to be very clever in Mozambique.

We are not yet very clever.

It is still a bit of mystery to me, but Cristóvão made some deal with the guy at the bulk rice shop. We paid him for a new tank-at a much lower price than normal, so it seems- and then paid the second shop owners for the gas. Here we received a new, full tank.

Still, we are stuck with this old tank until we figure out what to do with it. So, the three of us teamed up to carry both tanks around Vilanculos while we did our shopping. We visited the market for vegetables and bought some peanut butter. Our last stop was a corner cafe, where we discovered one reason that Cristóvão had been coming to Vilanculos: to buy cheese.

“They don’t have it today,” he told us as he came out of the shop, with a smile and a shrug. We suggested visiting another market to look for it. “Ahh it is late.”

With our two gas tanks, two bags of groceries, Cristóvão and his groceries, we caught the bus back to Mapinhane, feeling success that we know could not have been accomplished without the help of our vizinho.

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Lugging our gas tanks around Vil. Wish we could have gotten a picture of the whole ‘line’ when Alex and Cristóvão picked up the other one to carry it.

 

Best of Pre-Service Training

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Earlier this week, the 25th group of Peace Corps Mozambique swore in. This means that since the end of September we were Peace Corps trainees, and now we are Peace Corps Volunteers. Woo-hoo!

 

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Photo Credit to Peace Corps Mozambique.

Before we transition into our PCV life at site, I wanted to share some of the highlights of our 10 weeks of training.

Alex and I got to celebrate 2 years of marriage and 10 years of togetherness during our 2nd week of training.

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Celebrating our anniversaries.

We learned lots of new Moz skills throughout our training.

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How to ‘ralar’, or shave coconut.

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How to ‘pilar,’ or smoosh, peanuts. Unroasted, smooshed peanuts make peanut flour for cooking. Roasted smooshed peanuts makes peanut butter.

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Making ‘biscoitos,’ or cookies, with Mae the Moz way: with fanta and small electric oven.

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Learning to cook chicken in the yummiest fashion: grilled on a charcoal stove.

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Learning about peanut farming and mae’s livelihood.

We got to spend Thanksgiving all together at our Country Director’s house and eat delicious American Thanksgiving food. 

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We got to spend 10 weeks in beautiful, hilly Namaacha.

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A shrine built into a hillside in Namaacha.

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The Namaacha cascata.

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A path leading to our street in Namaacha.

Silly neighbors

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With Winne and Lulu on Halloween

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Alex dancing with some of our neighbor girls.

 

Meeting new people

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Imhambuddies! Our Moz 25 Inhambane province-mates

With 10 weeks of training behind us, the first phase of our Peace Corps journey is complete. We are so thankful for language, technical, and cultural skills we’ve learned and for the many new friends we now have in our lives. Here’s to the next step!

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PCV’s!