3 Smiles and Some Struggles: Work To Do, Exchanging Treats, Love Comes in the Mail, and Everyday Small Struggles


Finally, we have a job to do .And we can smile about that. We are two weeks into school now, and after two slow months at site, it finally feels like we have a purpose.

It’s not correct to say that we are finally doing what we came here to do, because our reasons for coming here were many, and they happen on a daily basis: learning a new language, experiencing life in a different culture, offering our skills and learning new skills, testing ourselves.

But it’s a happy, happy thing to have finally started the job we came to do. It’s nice to be teaching, getting into a routine, and organizing projects. Although we don’t teach all day every day, or even close, it’s nice to finally have a bit more structure to our days, meet our students, and start learning how to teach here.

Look for a post later this week about school in Moz!


The morning meeting on our first day of school.

My second set of small smiles comes from a magenta bowl with a clear lid: food exchanges with a couple of my female friends in town. I bring a bowl with a peanut butter cookie and it is returned to me full of freshly toasted cashews. I bring the bowl with some peanut butter, and set up a cooking lesson with Celia.  I make matapa independently at home and take some to Celia; her empregada (house helper woman) gives the bowl back full of the ‘folha de fejão,’ bean plant leaves, that she has cooked in the same manner as matapa. And next I will bring the bowl with a homemade cinnamon roll from the weekend. I love cooking and am happy that is has become an opportunity for cultural exchange.

The third recent smile is from receiving a plethora of care packages that were sent over the last 2 months and arrived all at once within the last 2 weeks. Into our hands came cards and chocolate, birthday wishes and high quality, non-perishable food that I didn’t even know I missed. As our time away from home grows, these little reminders are increasingly joyful. In fact, if you want to send something, please do:

P1270108Cecelia and Alex Romanyshyn

CP 16

Vilanculos, Mozambique.






Now, we come to the struggles. I think one of the reasons that the writing of this particular edition of 3 Smiles and a Struggle has been delayed is because life here has begun to feel more normal, which means the struggles are starting to feel more normal too. We are getting into the swing of things and starting to feel content, but the fact is that every day here presents a new challenge. None of them are necessarily bigger than the others. None of them are monumental.But they all play a role in our life here, and they are all considered pretty average and normal challenges. And so I have debated which to write here, which is more worthy of talking about.

I have wondered if I should tell you about the Portuguese struggle in the first weeks of school. It is becoming easier to speak freely as I begin to use my Portuguese more and more. But now there is more at stake too: do my 90 8th grade students understand a word I am saying to them?

I am teaching English, but we don’t speak much English in the classroom yet, save for practice with the subject we are learning that day. I give directions, and even examples, in English first and then in Portuguese, for clarity. But I don’t know that the words coming out of my mouth in either language are all that clear to my students at this point. Add to this the fact that students here are not accustomed to speaking up when they don’t understand things, and what I’m left with is a lot of wait time after everything I say, a lot of trying to convince them to ask for clarification, a lot of repeating, and a lot of hoping for the best.

All I can say is that teaching in another language is much, much different than speaking in a different language about weather, food, and what life is like in the United States; Yes, I wanted people to understand what I was saying to them in town these past two months, but now I need people to understand what I am saying to them in the classroom. Exhausting as this is, it does not feel like a huge point of stress. I am trying my best to improve as fast as I can, and I realize that this is just part of the process.

Then, I have wondered if I should tell you about the funny struggle of running out of cooking gas. Last week we ran out of cooking gas. When that happens, we have to go to nearby Vilanculos, about an hour away, to return our empty tank and buy a full tank. But every so often the whole town of Vilanculos runs out of full tanks of cooking gas, as is the case right now. So, with the help of our amazing sitemate, I hauled the tank to Vilanculos, looked for gas, found none, arranged to leave the tank at our favorite hotel until Vil gets more tanks in, and got to work getting creative in the kitchen. I realize that having to wait a month or so for more cooking gas would be unheard of in the States, but here, it’s normal, and it’s just not a point of great stress. So, until further notice, we will continue to eat care package non-perishables, cook fried eggs on our weakly functioning electric burners (they don’t have enough forca for a whole meal), roast peanuts over a charcoal stove to smoosh our own peanut butter, cook noodles by soaking them in boiling water from the electric teapot, and make as many varied meals out of charcoal stove rice and beans as possible: burritos (yay for avocado season : +1 smile!), coconut lime rice and beans, bean burgers, rice and beans with whatever vegetables can be found…TBD.

Lastly, I’ve wondered if I should bring up the recent heat wave, which honestly probably has been the biggest struggle for me the last couple weeks and has been the hardest of these things to not feel agitated by. We thought we were through the worst of the summer season here but, as we lay in our sweat puddles on our cement floor, trying not to move, we realize we were very, very wrong. We have had more than one day recently of 100+ degree weather. When this happens my body and brain is so exhausted; productivity ceases after noon, and is replaced by mild heat coma/ laying on the floor, sweating. A good night’s sleep is nearly impossible; I found myself getting up in the middle of the night last night and bringing a frozen water bottle back to be to snuggle with (freezer: +1 smile). Additionally, in this kind of heat Portuguese absolutely cannot be spoken or understood. Recent heat-induced language blunders: telling someone at the bank that I wanted to check my caldo (MSG ‘flavor’ packet that Mozambicans love to add to dishes) instead of my saldo (account balance…) and telling a driver that he cannot exit in that direction (pointing) because the portador (gatekeeper) is too small, instead of the portão (gate). And lastly, just staring blankly while my good gal friend in town laughs right at me about how I can’t speak Portuguese in the heat.


As I mentioned, none of these struggles feel like great points of stress here. But I know that in my home culture if I was doubting my ability to communicate with a group of students I would feel immensely guilty and worried. I know that if I had to wait a month to cook in the manner I am used to, I would feel annoyed. And if people laughed in my face when I tried to speak to them, I would feel super embarrassed and probably never want to be their friend again.

But here, all of these things are normal everyday occurrences, and the endless calm and patience of the Mozambicans we are surrounded by infuses these situations. So, I recognize these struggles, but it’s getting easier to forget about feeling guilty and worried and instead work toward improving. It’s not so hard to choose not to waste my energy being annoyed about the gas situation, as I cannot do anything to change it. And it’s better to just agree with my laughing friend instead of bumbling through ‘heat Portuguese’ in explanation, if for no other reason than getting back home to lay in front of my fan and cool my boiling brain.


No matter what the day brings, it always ends with this view from the back yard. Photo courtesty of Alex Romanyshyn.


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