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.”