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!
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.
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.
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.