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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