Here in Mozambique June 1 is Dia das Crianças, or Day of the Children. Colleagues and friends in town were curious to know when our Dia das Crianças is in the United States, and looked quite confused when I told them we don’t really have this day. The closest equivalent I could think of is Field Day, but even this is quite different.
I arrived at the primary school last Wednesday, June 1, for my usual library groups, suspecting that things at school would not be running normally because of the holiday. I was correct. Students and parents were drifting into the school yard, a bit later than the bell, carrying tupperware containers of special snacks, and looking excited. Children were moving desks out into the school yard, where later everyone would sit as groups of students performed.
I greeted the school director and some of the teachers in the school yard as they organized the students into two lines and began singing. Each occasion in Mozambique is celebrated with it’s own special song. This holiday began with a simple declaration of what it was, repeated over and over again, the shrill singing voices of young children waking up the quiet morning.
“Um de Junho é o dia, é o dia, é o dia da criiiiaannnçca.”
June 1 is the day, the day, the day of the child, they sang as we marched down the road from the school to the town center.
The town center, or administrative post as it translates directly, is where all major celebrations take place. There we found many children and teachers already gathered, lining up to place bougainvillea flowers on the ‘praça dos herois,’ a special cement star that each town has at its administrative post to honor those who died in the war for independence.
After placing the flowers, we marched back to the school where the student cultural groups began to get organized and rehearse for their performance. During this time, moments passed of me feeling awkward, standing alone, trying and failing to chat with students and teachers until they all eventually had to run off to do other things. Then came Professora Matilde, one of my favorites at the primary school. Noticing that I was ‘staying isolated’ she made a special effort to come and chat with me, making me feel a smidge more comfortable amid the hustle and bustle of an unfamiliar holiday. She too eventually was called away, but it was then that I got to experience probably one of my most special moments in Mozambique so far. A student came to tell me that the director was calling me, and when I arrived to talk to him I was invited to plant a tree with him, some other staff members, and some students.
The planting of trees in celebration of a holiday is one of the little gems of Mozambique for me, and being asked to plant a cashew tree with Mozambican colleagues felt like an honor. Now there is a little something of me, left behind in Mapinhane to grow little by little over the years.
After the tree-planting, the celebration really got under way. I was asked to sit up front to watch as a cultural group from each grade performed song and dance for the rest of the school to watch. The top trimester 1 students from each grade, along with their mothers, were then honored in front of the school and given prizes. From here the celebration was progressing to academic olympics and athletic competitions.
I was not able to stay for the whole day, but left smiling and feeling a little more accepted into this community.
The next day Alex and I set out to do a bit of exploring, which brought on some smiles after a difficult morning at school. A recent struggle, as discussed briefly in ‘Watching the Garden Grow,’ is the feeling of restlessness that has come over me here recently. I am used to having lots and lots of space to explore, and it was beginning to feel like we had seen all there was to see of Mapinhane. I knew this wasn’t quite true and that this feeling is brought on by the fact that we often go the same places and use the same one to get there. So last week we decided to walk north on the highway, away from Mapinhane and towards Vilanculos, with no destination in mind. We were walking just to walk, something we used to do a lot and don’t do so much here. Not far down the highway we saw a path leading off to the east and decided to take it. Here we discovered a quiet, calm walking loop that popped us out not far from our house. One of the difficulties of walking here, for me, is that sometimes I want my walk to be a time to clear my head and think in silence. It is nearly impossible here, as being out of the house means chatting with everyone you pass. This is a wonderful thing sometimes and a nuisance other times, depending on what I am seeking from a stroll. We are smiling to have found this new path, where we can walk in peace when we need to, think, and chat, and find a little bit of space to breathe outside of the house.
The final recent smile came in our Adult English Club last night. In May we received some donated dictionaries for our Adult English Club members. We set up a system with them that required them to come to three of the following four club meetings to receive a dictionary. Last night was our third class, so we distributed 12 dictionaries to people who had come the past three weeks in a row. These adults have been talking about and looking forward to receiving dictionaries for weeks, and it made me smile to see them smile….and, in some cases, even kiss their new dictionary. It is always encouraging to see people who are so eager to learn and excited about having this simple resource that opens up a world of knowledge for them.
This leads me nicely into my recent struggle, as Adult English Club was what was on my mind at 1:38 this morning. I was awoken by thoughts of this club and what we had done at our meeting yesterday. It wasn’t stressful…I was just thinking. The middle of the night has become my brain’s new favorite time to think, review, analyze, plan, scheme, ‘daydream,’ and, sometimes, stress. I have never been one to have difficulty sleeping, and this problem, which has been getting worse and worse since the end of April, is really starting to wear me down. Being awake for hours in the night has made some recent days a real struggle, and feeling like I don’t have the energy to do all the things I want to do is frustrating. Additionally, my tired mind is struggling to deal with all the little challenges that come up and I am wondering what is at the root of this problem. If nothing else, this struggle is helping me to realize what things in my life are essential for my wellbeing, and how important it is to keep up with these things. Our schedule here is different every day, and I have realized that in order to not feel ‘tossed about’ I need a couple things each day that happen at the same time, that are consistent and predictable. I have realized too that I have been neglecting some of the things that are best for me, like journaling and walking and doing yoga, things that are essential mental and physical outlets. I am challenging myself to take care of me, give myself permission for a break, and do the things that bring peace, no matter the country, language, job, or community that makes up my life.