Smiles and Struggles Join Forces: The Start of the Start of School and Connection to Food

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Our very last week of our second summer break in one year began in style: with the ringing in of my 27th birthday. Lots of smiles to be had! This year was my first-ever summer birthday, as we are here in the southern hemisphere, but, I realized, some things about a birthday are just universal. To me, a good birthday must have: good food, good booze, good people, and some kind of outdoor activity. In recent years, all birthdays have included bacon, whiskey, husband and family, and a form of snow recreation. This year: crepes, seafood pasta, homemade chocolate cake, mojito, husband and new friends, and  hammocking. Success!

Smiles and struggles then joined forces this week as we slowly started working. We have spent 9 weeks for the first day of school, to do the things we feel we came here to do. This past week held the buzz of back-to-school familiar to us from home; People are excited and looking forward to a new year. Students are milling around and our teacher neighborhood is filling up again. It was a week full of scheduling, lesson planning, and meetings. These are they smiley parts. But before I get too far, I must stop you from painting the American back-to-school picture in your mind and I must tell you about the struggles. When I say scheduling, I mean drawing grids on the blackboard in chalk and filling in which subject will be when, then inputting it into xcel and realizing there are a bunch of overlaps and things don’t work and it needs to be redone. When I say scheduling, I mean people telling us that we will find out our schedule Monday, the first day of school. This lack of control over my own darn schedule was a struggle for me until I realized that I have absolutely no where else to be…ever…so I will just plan my lesson and be ready to teach. Now, when I say lesson planning, I mean that two thirds of teachers come into the teacher’s lounge, sign a teacher attendance book, and then go home. When I say meetings, I mean hours of suffering and confusion, sprinkled with a lot of seemingly pointless banter and mild yelling.

Okay. That one is the same.

Except here it is in soft-spoken Portuguese.

Nonetheless, we’ve gotten our first taste of how school in Moz works, and we are excited to get started! The start of the school year here was celebrated with the planting of a tree at school and a big march to the town center, where some of the higher-ups in our district’s ministry of education gave short speeches.

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‘Solidary Education and Human Development’

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They say that the education of girls is vital because they are the future of communities in the developing world. We asked where all the boys were. The response from Professora Annabella: ‘Eh. They are lazy. They are sleeping. I don’t know.’ I still give the boys more credit, but the turnout of female students at this school celebration says a lot.

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I have to appreciate a place where important community gatherings happen under the trees.”Mocambique, HOI!”

As this week has passed, I have begun to see glimmers of appreciation for this country, glimmers of things I think I will miss when we go back to the United States (in 22 long months). It might seem odd that it took 9 weeks, even longer if you count our training time in Namaacha, for me to see these glimmers of appreciation, but it truly did. I have certainly appreciated the opportunity to be in the Peace Corps in Mozambique. I have appreciated kind words and actions from people we have met, both American and Mozambican. I have appreciated having a relaxing beach getaway just 45 minutes away from where we live.I have appreciated being here with my husband. And the other day I really, really appreciated the taste of a mysterious nectarine in a fruit salad.

But this week was different.

Suffering through yet another meeting in 90 degree heat in a cement room, I realized I could hear birds chirping outside and I realized how open to the outside our lives are here. We are either outside, or we are inside with all the doors and windows open. In this way, life here is very sensory.  We hear birds and people passing by and a lot of chirping bugs at night and the music that anyone on our side of town decides to play at any  time of day.  We smell things cooking (and trash burning…). We feel breezes. Meetings happen under trees. Markets are set up in open-air stalls. People sit outside in the shade to stay cool. Every  night, lacking running water, we brush our teeth outside under the stars. And we walk. Everywhere.

I used to make a point to go out for a15 minute walk every day at work just to connect with what was going on outside the building: the weather, the views, the birds. But here, it’s always there. We have been missing our hours spent outside in the mountains biking, hiking, and skiing. But here, our connection to life outside of walls is ever-present.

To not be going from our work building, to our vehicle, to our grocery store building, to our closed up house is pretty refreshing and kind of a different lifestyle.

Just the simple fact of being able to hear a bird chirping during a meeting made me realize this connection, and made me realize it’s probably something I will miss.

Second glimmer and also struggle: the market is bare. The fact that we have had days this week that we can only find onions and coconuts in our market has been a struggle for me and, undoubtedly, for many people in our town. Our province has had so little rain that it is on the verge of famine and may start receiving food aid in some areas. This is scary.

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The return of my favorite daily snack…but better with HOME-SMOOSHED peanut butter! Peanuts are a savior, always available in our market. And despite the lack of variety in our day to day, we are lucky to be close to Vilanculos, where we can get South African import produce, like apples, every few weeks.

This is hard to explain, because I miss food just as much as the next Peace Corps Volunteer. And I did nearly cry at the taste of nectarine in my mouth last weekend. But it’s oddly refreshing to live in a place where food and crops and rain and heat are connected; food is seasonal. This is nature. This connection is powerful, and it doesn’t exist in the U.S. And I don’t say that to be condescending…I would be hard-pressed to tell you what grew during what seasons in Colorado, and I certainly did not eat seasonally. Why would I when I could get such variety at any time? Variety is what we want for health, right? Why would I deprive myself? The choice of only onions and coconuts is a bit extreme, but it’s actually nice to not have everything right at our fingertips. It’s kind of fun to play ‘how many things can you do with a tomato.’ If we can find a tomato, that is.  It invites creativity, I suppose. Additionally, my digestive and immune systems have been so happy and content here…I expected the opposite. With growing awareness of nutritional needs, and beautiful food blogs galore, the colorful diet in the U.S. is the thing to eat. I was all about getting my two items of every color every day. But still, I went through phases where I felt sick after every single meal. And no matter how much kale I ate, I was congested all the time. Call me crazy, but here, I think my belly and body feels good because it has so much less to process and everything it’s processing is, well, not processed. Salsas and sauces are made fresh. Beans are soaked for hours and boiled. Tortillas are made from scratch. Bread is delivered every morning. Coconut milk is not measured in cans.

There’s not much to buy, but I buy what I can, when I can, and I go home and figure out what to do with it that day.

I don’t know if there is scientific evidence backing a simple diet for health. I don’t know if my nutrition is suffering because I didn’t eat upwards of 10 varieties of fruits and vegetables every day. But I feel good. I feel strong. And I feel more connected to my food.

It’s simple.

And, I think, that’s what these glimmers come down to. Simplicity. Life here is slow and simple. And it depends on the day whether that’s a smile or a struggle.

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