Monthly Archives: January 2016

3 Smiles and a Struggle: Mozambican Women Have My Back, English with Marcia, Morning Work Outs, and Snowsickness

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Sometimes little things are big things, really. It’s no secret that many times little moments add up to form something bigger and small efforts can add up to big changes. So it is with the smiles this past week or so.

I have finally been able to find some ways to stay a bit busier. It seems like the pace of life here is picking up just slightly, and things in Mapinhane are starting to feel normal. People have said that once we start school we will get in a groove and the time will fly; for the first time, I can believe it.

It was on a walk down to the primary school library last week that I had a great smile moment. I was walking with my Mozambican counterpart and her niece and they needed to stop at a store to buy some groceries. I waited outside, while men unloaded sizable sacks of corn flour from a truck. Then I heard something we hear a lot here: “Mulungu. Como esta?” White person. How are you? The effect that this has on Peace Corps Volunteers varies. For some, it makes their blood boil. For others it doesn’t really phase them. I am in between; it doesn’t anger me, but I find it a bit annoying. I don’t know if some people are so accustomed to this that they don’t know any better or any differently. It could just be a simple observation; I am, after all, a white person…that’s just plain true. But the consensus is that it certainly has an offensive undertone. Reactions to this statement vary too. Some ignore it. Some reply “Mozambicano. Como esta?” And some have the same response that I have, in either local language or Portuguese. To the guy in the truck I said what I always say, “Estou bem, mas meu nome e Cecelia. Nao e mulungu.” I am well, but my name is Cecelia. It’s not mulungu. It doesn’t really give me any great satisfaction to say this to people; it’s more an educational tool against a possible case of accidental ignorance on the part of people who call me white person instead of something more polite. But that day it was satisfying because of the affect it had on some nearby women. All of a sudden these women were hooting and roaring, pointing and laughing at the man in the truck, I assume at his ‘blunder,’ repeating what I had said and adding their own agreement: “Sim, ela e Cecelia. Nao e mulungu.” Yeah, she’s Cecelia. Not Mulungu.  They were totally backing me up. Not only that, but I smiled inside for having given Mozambican women a reason to be slightly superior to a Mozambican man for a minute, which doesn’t happen often here. Their laughter and repetition of my words went with them into the store, where they proceeded to tell everyone what had happened. And all of this in less than one minute.

Other happy moments in the past week have come from spending time and teaching mini English lessons to one of my favorite women in town, Marcia. Marcia runs a store about a five minute walk from our house; she has quite a good selection at her store. This is where we go when we need to buy oil, tuna, snack cookies and crackers, flour, laundry detergent, or juice. She is 40 years old and has no children. She told me she has problems with her stomach and has had four surgeries; this is why she can’t have children. She used to be married, but her husband passed away. She speaks very good Portuguese; her husband lived in Portugal for 11 years. She is a strong, independent woman, and is full of insights and metaphors; she once corrected another man in another truck the same way I correct people on the matter. Then she turned to me and asked if people would yell ‘preto,preto’- black person, black person- at her if she came to America. I told her no. She said that’s because it would be offensive; we all have the same blood in our bodies so it doesn’t matter what color our skin is. One day last week Marcia told me she wants to learn English. This is not surprising. We hear it from many people in Mapinhane and we have been thinking about starting adult English classes as part of our service here. I told her about our possible class, but because Marcia is pretty much my favorite and we go to her store almost every day to talk to her anyways, I also agreed to give her little English lessons when I come by. Teaching her has proved satisfying already. She began by asking me in Portuguese,”It’s not to late to learn, right? It’s never too late.” Right, I told her. She is curious and motivated and eager to learn. We go over words and phrases, and she is always stopping to ask if her pronunciation is correct. She goes home at night and reviews her notes before bed. She asked me to write a short paragraph so she could practice reading aloud and learning new words. She told Alex one day that her friend wants to learn English to, so I can teach her next. Alex’s reply: Cece can teach you, and then you will be able to teach your friend, and then she can teach another friend.

Finally, I am feeling happy and strong the past couple weeks after getting into a good morning exercise routine. Alex and I are already missing our mountain lifestyle that kept us in really good shape. Our weekends usually included snowboarding, cross-country skiing, or hiking. Our weekdays were tougher, but we often still found time to ski after work, bike, or go for a walk. Here, we have to put more thought and effort into keeping ourselves healthy and fit. Alex has impressed me with his quick build-up in running capacity and I have started an ‘8 week walker to runner’ program to build myself up. I love the structure of these interval runs, knowing exactly how long I am going for. I have also surprised myself by successfully completing some of the runs I was nervous about. In addition to good ole fashioned cardio, I am starting to get back into a yoga routine. A fellow PCV discovered that yogadownload.com offers a free 6 month membership to PCV’s through their Yoga for Peace Program. This membership allows me to download 5 new audio or video classes every month! Yay for feeling strong and centered!

The recent struggle has been snowsickness. What I mean is that I haven’t really been homesick/missing home, but I have really been snow sick…./missing snow. We really miss our mountains and our mountain lifestyle. We miss being able to be out for hours on a hike or ski. We miss feeling cold and cozying up. We miss the exciting feeling of new snow on the ground in the morning. And we just miss plain seasonal division….half the time I don’t even know what month it is anymore; they all look the same here. I don’t know how to describe it, but there’s just something special about each season.

For winter, is it whiskey and waffles? The buzz of a mountain town when there’s new snow? Is it wearing socks…thick socks, and sweatpants, and other wonderful things made of fuzz? Is it the down comforter on the bed? And there’s something about Chinese take-out…? Is it that crunchy sound of snow when you’re walking on a trail? And real motivation to try a new soup recipe every week? It’s not just seeing snow, or playing in snow. It’s just the essence of a good, cold, white, whiskey winter.

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On Matapa, and female friends

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One thing that I became immediately aware of when we got to Mapinhane was that our neighborhood is full of males. We only have 2 female teaching colleagues at our school, and only one of them lives in the neighborhood. It became clear to me that I am going to need some female company, and that I am going to have to make an effort to find it.

There are a lot of women in the town of Mapinhane. They are always working in their mashambas (gardens), going from here to there, carrying many items and at least one child, or tending to their shops. They are busy. But they are friendly too. Upon greeting them, they usually break into a big smile and an enthusiastic greeting back. If they have a moment they will stop and chat with us. Or if we have a moment (of which we have many right now) we stop and chat with them at their stores and market stalls.

After 6 weeks here, there a couple of women that I have really come to enjoy and I wondered how I could continue to build friendships with them outside of our daily shopping needs and small talk conversations. Like I said, women here are very busy. And also, Mozambican culture is not American culture. At home, if I wanted to build a friendship I would probably suggest meeting for a drink or coffee or a meal or going for a hike or a ski. But none of these things are things here.

One way I thought of to make friends with the women here is to work with them on whatever they are doing. Another way is teach them something, like English or baking, if they want to learn. And a third way is to ask them to teach you something.

It was in this third way that I went out on a limb one day recently, outside of our bread shop. We were talking with Celia, the woman who sells bread in Mapinhane, about Mozambican food. We told her that one of our favorite Mozambican dishes is Matapa, and we asked her if anyone in Mapinhane sells prepared Matapa that we could buy for lunch once in a while. She shrugged and said she didn’t think so.

The next day when I went to buy bread, I asked Celia if she would teach me to make Matapa. There were a few seconds of anxiety, you know, that fear of rejection when, reminiscent of first grade, you ask someone if they want to be your friend. Despite my desire to eat Matapa, my request for a cooking lesson was more grown-up, Peace Corps, living-in-another-culture code for “PLEASE, be my friend!!”

She smiled and got a little embarrassed. She agreed with a drawn out “oooookkkkaaayy” that indicated at least a bit of reluctance. But, she agreed!

Just as giddy as a first grader in those early days of a new friendship, I looked so forward to my cooking lesson with Celia. After assuring Celia that Alex would not be upset about my spending a few hours out of the house, (another topic of discussion for later: husbands in the eyes of Mozambican women…) I passed a few hours Sunday afternoon, learning to make this delightful Mozambican dish and smiling to myself as she told passersby, “I am teaching my friend to make Matapa.”

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We began by pulling leaves off of the Matapa plants in Celia’s yard. She taught me to pull from the top, as the lower leaves are older and bitter. This is the same plant as tapioca or casava, as it is called in other parts of the world. The root is like a potato and has many uses as well.

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We then had to pilar, or smoosh, the Matapa leaves. As you may recall, pilar-ing was one of the skills we learned during our homestay in Namaacha, but we had only ever done it with peanuts.

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Next we pilared raw peanuts to make peanut flour.

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Throwback to that time in Namaacha when I learned to ralar, or shave, fresh coconut. This is what we did next in the Matapa making process.

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Then we added our peanut flour to the shaved coconut, poured a bit of hot water over it, and squeezed, producing the first, sweet coconut milk. We poured the first milk into the Matapa pan, and then repeated this coconut milking 2 more times, with each subsequent milk getting less sweet.

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We used a very fine strainer to add the coconut milk to the Matapa leaves.

 

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Let it boil to thicken…

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And Voila!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Professora Celia giving me some of our finished product to take home.

3 Smiles and A Struggle: Leaving, Coming Back, Cooking with Celia, and Transportation and Touristness

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We are finally nearing the end of our long break, with only 2 weeks left until we are supposed to start school. This past week, just when the boredom had reached its peak, we decided to get out of Mapinhane for a change of scenery/ before I completely lost my mind. Difficult transportation aside, lots of smiles were had as we spent a great couple days with some friends in southern Inhambane. We relaxed on the beach, drank a mango daquiri, ate yummy market food, and snorkelled with dolphins!

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Boats in the bay of Inhambane.

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Look hard..there’s dolphins!

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The clear blue waters of the Indian Ocean.

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Mango. Daquiri.

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We were assured we wouldn’t have to swim back across the bay, despite the duct taped engine that was started with a bit of string and steered with a foot…

 

After this break from site, I was happy and excited to be going back to Mapinhane. After having some difficult, empty days recently I took my excitement to return as a good sign as to how I truly feel about Mapinhane. After a few days away, I was looking forward to going ‘home,’ seeing the kind people we see every day in town, and being back in our house.

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At home we walked the Fraser River Trail, here we have the Mapinhane River Trail.

One of these kind people is Celia, the woman who runs the bread shop in Mapinhane. Before we left, we had been talking to Celia about matapa, a delicious Mozambican dish that we wish we could buy prepared here in Mapinhane. After talking to Celia about how much we like matapa, I asked if she would teach me to cook it one day. I felt like a first grader again when she, somewhat reluctantly, agreed, and there was a potential new friend on the horizon for me! It has seemed a bit hard to meet female friends in Mapinhane, so I was so happy to spend a Sunday afternoon making matapa and chatting with her. More on matapa-making still to come!

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Making Matapa at Celia’s.

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The struggle this past week was a toss up between transportation and feeling like a tourist on our trip south. To begin with, we spent about 3 hours waiting on the side of the road for a ride south, flagging down every car and bus that passed with no luck. On the way back north, we bought a bike in the city and had an even larger challenge with transportation home. After about 2 hours looking for, finding, and negotiating prices with a chapa (minibus) driver, we were ready to head home. We then realized that this bus would be the third to fill up and leave. With each bus taking about 1-2 hours to fill, this wasn’t something we wanted to wait on. I quickly ran to the machibombo (charter bus) station and was pleased to find one heading north within the next 5 minutes…but Alex couldn’t get there quick enough and they left without us. After waiting for the next bus heading north we overpaid for us and our bike, got on, and relaxed into the comfortable seats…a mere 3 hours after starting our search for transportation. We’ve experienced this kind of inconvenient transportation in Kenya and Tanzania before, but up until this point we had had really good luck with transportation in Moz, so this was our first big challenge with it.

My second struggle with this trip was feeling like a tourist. In Mapinhane everyone is so nice to us. We can walk around freely and we are, more or less, treated like normal people. We have good conversations with people. We buy things for the same prices that Mozambicans buy them for. No one bosses us around or treats us like we have bottomless pockets of money. As soon as we entered the bus station in Inhambane City, our last leg of transportation before our destination, all of this good treatment went away; we were now among the tourists, in a tourist destination. Suddenly people were trying to obviously overcharge us for a bus, we were being asked for money, and told quite rudely that we had to sit in the back of the bus so people could fill in in front of us..even though other passengers were allowed to choose their seats. After an already long day of travel, we had to stand our ground and get a little sassy with the chapa guys, if for no other reason than the principle of maybe making this whole process slightly less obnoxious for the next traveler to come through. Over the next couple days in our tourist destination, we were asked for money many more times, and “white taxed” like crazy on all fruits and vegetables we tried to buy, the worst of which was the coconut salesmen that tried to charge us, literally, 20 times the normal price. It’s hard to know that you do, in reality, have more money than most of the people overcharging you. And it’s hard to come from somewhere in the country where people don’t treat you that way- and just treat you like another person- to somewhere where your assumed financial status seems to be all people see you for. It’s hard to see the teenage boys-and younger- walking the beach all day, selling things as probably their only source of income, and then refuse to give them more than 25 cents because you know that’s the real price of a darn coconut. The conflict of apparent poverty and refusal to pay more because of the color of our skin or where we come from is a really difficult thing. The light at the end of this tunnel, at least with the beach salesmen, was that after we told them enough times that we weren’t going to buy their wares, many of them sat down and talked to us about various things: school, the United States, where they grew up. And again, we had a chance to see that these conversations have value too, maybe not as immediate as a few metacais more in their pockets that day, but just for the intangible value of the exchange of curiosities.

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Thanks Readers!

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It’s a happy new year at Happily Lost 🙂  I was pleasantly surprised to see that in 2015 Happily Lost with Cece had more than 5,000 views from more than 3,300 visitors in 62 countries!

I am glad that all of you readers out there are enjoying the stories, the blog I started as a way to document our adventures and contemplate life.

THANKS FOR READING!

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All the countries that have been here!

3 Smiles and A Struggle: Town Friends, Hosting Christmas, Summer Heat, and Feeling Useless

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The New Year began quietly for us, save for the bar music from town blasting down the street for 2 and a half days straight. Admittedly, we are not big New Year’s Eve people and we did, in fact, fall asleep at 9:30 watching ‘When Harry Met Sally,’ which was slightly reminiscent of a NYE 6 years ago when we feel asleep early in Costa Rica watching ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ on Spanish TV. We did, however, celebrate on the first day of 2016 with mimosas, a memory of a great, long cross-country ski on last year’s January 1, and the realization that it was the first day of (possibly) our only full year living abroad. Our first month at site is now behind us, and a mere 23 months lie ahead.

In the last couple weeks, I have smiled about making some good, solid friends in town. We live in a teacher neighborhood on our school grounds so, unlike the houses of some other Peace Corps Volunteers, we don’t have people passing by our house on their way to somewhere. Additionally, none of our teacher colleagues live in this neighborhood full time, so they have all left for the holidays to go visit family. Some PCV’s would kill for the privacy and quiet that we have at our house. But on the other hand this means that we have to make a very conscious effort to leave our house every day and go find people to talk to; they certainly don’t come to us. In doing this, we have started to find a few great people to stop and have conversations with in town. I look forward to seeing these people and I know that, for me, there is nothing that makes me feel more a part of a community than running into someone familiar wherever I go. This small-town fact was special to me where we lived in Colorado, and I can see that it is here as well.

The second smile recently was from hosting Christmas. We had 11 other PCV’s at our house for 3 days around Christmas, cooking, baking, watching movies, chatting, and just hanging out. Many of these people were people I didn’t get to know very well during training, and it was great to have this time to get to know them, share holiday traditions, and just generally be in good company. These are some of our closest PCV neighbors for the next 2 years, and I am so excited about that. Our Christmas celebration ended with a night at the beach together..which is always a good thing 🙂

The third smile has to be that I recently feel less bothered by the Mozambican summer heat. There were moments in our first 2 weeks at site that I didn’t know if I could handle the heat..and I am sure there will be more of these moments in the future. In fact, I expected it to take me much longer to get used to the heat. But, I have noticed recently that the heat doesn’t bother me as much as it did at first. Don’t get me wrong, I still feel really hot when it’s 100 degrees, but I don’t feel as irritated by it. It may sound silly, but it’s nice to be able to go out walking around and not feel completely paralyzed by something like weather! Still, it’s odd to think that we are experiencing a 100+ degree temperature difference than what we are used to for this time of year.

And finally, it has been a struggle recently to feel useful, to feel that our time here- as of right now- really has any point at all. Peace Corps says all the time that they are all about relationship-building and, as noted above, I can already feel this starting to happen with people in our town. I know that intangible things, like conversations, have such a far-reaching impact on both sides, for social change, education, and widening perspectives. But, even with the hours we spend out and about chatting with people, there are many hours left to be filled during each day. When we are sitting in our house watching yet another episode of ‘Friends,’ passing the time until the next meal, it can be hard to remember why we came here. We are not teaching or working on projects yet, we don’t feel like we are doing anything useful or helpful for anyone anywhere, and we wonder what our purpose is.

It doesn’t matter how many times we were warned in training that we were inevitably going to feel this way, feeling useless is difficult.

The comfort comes in knowing that this will probably be one of the slowest times of our service, that taking this time to build relationships is a powerful thing, that instant gratification does not exist here (or anywhere, really), and that this is just a part of our journey….a really long, slow part of our journey.