The first third of our Peace Corps Service has come and gone. Sometimes it seems like it passed in the blink of an eye and at other times, as I think how much has happened and changed, it seems like we have been here for a lifetime already. We are nine months in with 18 left to go here in Mozambique. Here are my most notable moments from the first third.
My 3 biggest personal accomplishments
– Learning Portuguese. It’s still strange to me to think that in the past 9 months I have learned to communicate on a daily basis in a language other than English. Foreign languages are not something I have had a huge personal interest in throughout my life and, although I somehow passed a Spanish language test to get into this Moz program, Portuguese is the only language other than English that I have ever used regularly for more than a couple weeks.
– Culinary creativity. One of my big worries before coming to Mozambique was that I had come to love cooking so much and would have to let that go here with such limited resources. But just the opposite has happened: I think I love cooking even more with limited resources. I find great joy in going out to the market, buying whatever I can find, and figuring out what to do with it. The days of meal planning are over, as I just never know what I might find at the market. Also, I have found that not having every food at my fingertips has caused my appreciation for food and cooking to grow.
– Carrying on through some major struggles and vulnerability, and becoming more aware of what I need. It’s strange how rawly I have seen myself here, how clear my self image has been at times. I think it comes partially from not being surrounded by people of my own culture, from not being in my own culture, where I know-and strive to achieve- what is expected in any given situation. Somehow, when the context changes so drastically and you no longer know what is expected of you all that you’re left with is your basic, simple self as you are, unclouded by what you are trying to be. It’s confusing. It can be a bit unnerving to see my own flaws and strengths so clearly, but I am happy at having seen it, accepted it, and learned from it.
My 3 biggest personal challenges
– Learning Portuguese. In these 9 months, I have achieved the level of Portuguese to do what I need to do on a daily basis and to even have some in-depth conversations about difficult topics. But I have realized that language is a hugely limiting factor for me here and that not being able to express all my thoughts is really difficult to deal with some days. I continue to work at bettering my Portuguese but I am also learning to accept that it’s ok if language is not my biggest strength during my service.
– Learning to let things go and not be so hard on myself. This has always been a personal challenge for me, and I find it even more apparent in Mozambique, where I am missing a lot of my normal stress relievers and where the difficulties that arise are sometimes so incredibly unfamiliar that I tend to cling to them even more.
– Alex and I creating our own identities as a married couple at site. It has taken many months for our roles, hobbies, and interests as individuals to become clear to us and to our small community. If I was at the market alone, people wondered why Alex wasn’t there too. If he was speaking the local language to someone, people wondered why I wasn’t doing the same. He might be the right-hand man at school, doing any small task or project that is asked of him at the spur of the moment, whereas I spend large chunks of time planning and carrying out a few bigger projects.
The 3 things I am most proud of at school
-Splitting my classes of 48 into 8 leveled groups based off of 1st trimester grades. Once my students got used to the concept of group work, I am so happy to have witnessed discussions, debating, and collaborating, all things that don’t often happen in schools here.
– Jumping into teaching in a foreign school system and feeling satisfied with how the first trimester went.
– Seeing my student’s confidence grow in speaking short English phrases. There is a loooooonngg ways to go still, but at least it’s not crickets in the classroom anymore when I ask a question.
My 3 biggest frustrations at school
-Classroom management with groups of 48 8th graders and language barriers.
– Lack of critical thinking skills
– The lack of confidence, encouragement, and positive reinforcement.
My 3 most worthwhile contributions to secondary projects
– Bringing the primary school pedagogical director (like a vice principal) to a 3-day community library training, where we learned about literacy and growing our library program.
-Bringing 3 of my female secondary school students to REDES group training, where they learned about sexual health, their rights, and entrepreneurship.
-Along with our sitemate, Sarah, and Alex, starting and running a weekly Adult English Club.
The top 3 things I hope to still accomplish in my secondary projects
– Finding and training more facilitators to lead library sessions at the primary school
-Starting a REDES group at my school and a group for 6th and 7th grade girls at the primary school
– Facilitating a literacy day or literacy training in my community.
My 3 favorite things about life in Mozambique, so far
– Simplicity and slow pace of life
– Connection and creativity with seasonal food
– Living near a beach and coming to appreciate the ocean more.
My 3 least favorite things about life in Mozambique, so far
-The prevalence of men who are rude, drunk, entitled or all of the above
– Summertime heat
My 3 favorite things about Mozambican culture
– Singing and dancing. This is an integral part of holidays, church services, and annual ‘culture weeks,’ but also of every day life here. Women sing as they do household chores, we hear our female boarding students singing every night from their dorm across the street, and a number of students (male and female) walk around the school grounds singing.
– Local cuisine. Matapa, Feijaoda, and the best chicken I’ve ever tasted…
-General kindness of Mozambicans and the importance of relationships in their lives over anything else
My 3 most difficult periods
-The December/January period right after we arrived at site, also known as ‘Boring Time.’ With no work to do and daily temperatures hotter than 100 degrees, it felt like all there was to do was lay around, sweat, and try to remember why we came here to begin with.
-The weeks after the death of our group member, Drew Farr.
-The past 6 weeks. We had been cautioned about this period of our service from a few more ‘senior’ volunteers, and it meant me struggling to figure out what they all meant. For me, this period has been hard, I think, because the novelty of being here has finally worn off and the time has come to fully commit to facing the challenges head-on, knowing a little more about them than we did nine months ago. Additionally, after our life was turned on its head, I let go of a lot of important routines that are essential for my wellbeing; it’s taken me struggling to realize what I need to do for myself and to start doing those things again. Next up in the struggle was the full realization and acceptance of how much and how extremely our life has changed. Almost nothing is what it was a year ago, except that I still make the bed every day, we don’t work Fridays, and Alex and I are a team.
The 3 things I have missed most about America
-Seeing our friends and family regularly
-Having the language skills to fully express any idea that crosses my mind at any moment to any person.
-Mountain living: snow, cold, skiing, snowboarding, hiking, biking, whiskey-drinking, camping, canoeing, and general mountain feelings.
My 3 favorite moments with other Peace Corps Volunteers
– An impromptu soccer field dance party during Pre-Service Training in Namaacha.
– Tuesday nights making football food and watching an episode of Friday Night Lights with Alex and the Sara/h’s.
– The first annual half-Christmas celebration, including cookie-decorating, movie-watching, cooking and eating, homemade presents, homemade cards, stockings, and a highly entertaining competition between Alex and Sara.
The 3 most exciting things to look forward to in the second third
-August break: a hiking trip to Swaziland and a visit from my parents that will include a safari and beach time!
-Travels and visitors during November, December, and January
-The end of our first year teaching abroad.