The First Third

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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

-Transportation

– 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.

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The Third Third

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Each time that I post one of these ‘Third’ posts, I say that I can’t believe how quickly the past third has gone. Well, of course, it is no different this time around than it was for The First Third or The Second Third, but I really can say that this one went by the fastest of all.

We are now in the capitol of Mozambique, in complete disbelief and slight confusion, where we have spent the last 4 days wrapping up medical and administrative tasks to officially close our Peace Corps Service here in Mozambique.

Here are a couple of highlights from this third and final third.

My 3 biggest personal successes

-Completing 27 months of Peace Corps Service.

– Feeling so at home in Mapinhane. It came as a surprise to me that our last day in Mapinhane was one of my favorite days at site. No, it was not because I was overjoyed to be getting out of there. Quite the opposite. In those final moments it was easy to feel how much Mapinhane had come to be home, and this was demonstrated in large part by how that last day passed in the company of some of our best friends at site, spending hours chatting right up until the moment we got in the car to leave.

– Completing a 100 Days of Yoga challenge to myself.  As I wrote about in The Second Third  post, a big challenge of Peace Corps service was maintaining my health, especially coming from a very active mountain lifestyle. After completing a 30 day yoga challenge, I felt so good that I challenged myself to 100 days, and succeeded! This challenge helped me feel strong and healthy again, and got me on a good track for the rest of service. The challenge ended June 1, but I’ve still been practicing yoga 5 or 6 days each week.

My 3 biggest personal challenges

-Staying calm and grounded through the transition leading up to my ‘Close of Service,’ especially with the anticipation of change.

-Prioritizing my health and wellness by being more conscientious of exercise and food choices when there was a choice.

-Leaving site. Leaving Mapinhane was honestly much harder than leaving home in the States 2 years ago. When we left home, we were comforted by knowing that we would see all our friends and family there again, and that someday our life would once again come to resemble the life we had pre-Moz. On the contrary, when leaving Mozambique, we left with an uncomfortable uncertainty about when or if we will ever see our friends here again, and a heavy certainty that we will never have a life similar to what it was in Mapinhane.

The 3 things I am most proud of at school

Culture Week. I was a ‘Director of Stream’ (kind of like a homeroom teacher) for one of the 8th grade groups this year, and one of my biggest duties was to help them organize and rehearse for a 4-day, school wide, competition that involved 14 cultural events. Although preparation felt a little intense, this ended up being one of my all-time favorite events of Peace Corps service, and a great bonding experience with my students. I am so proud of them!

– Seeing my REDES girls group members grow hugely in their confidence and become the most participatory of the 45 students in their class.

-Finishing 2 years of teaching in a Mozambican Secondary School.

The 3 biggest challenges at school

-Collaborating with my ‘homeroom’ students on Culture Week activities. This experience was a whole new challenge at a point in my service when I thought I would be coasting through to the end. The challenges came in organizing a large group of students, a lot of trying to decipher what was being said by them in their local language, and figuring out ways to get things done that I had never done before.

-An ongoing challenge throughout service was classroom management with large class sizes and finding a balance between using some strategies the students are accustomed to- which is often punishment based versus rewards based- and exposing them to new rewards-based strategies, which often take time for them to buy into.

-Staying motivated to teach creative lessons when I was frustrated with student behavior and participation, and feeling unappreciated as a teacher.

My 3 most worthwhile contributions to secondary projects, and progress made on goals

-Bringing 3 8th grade girls and a 12th grade student leader to the annual REDES girls group regional workshop. Along with Culture Week, this was one of my favorite events of Peace Corps service. It was a weekend full of learning and playing, and a great experience getting to know 3 of my REDES girls better.

-English Club Certificate Program. The Adult English Club that we started last year was probably my overall favorite project from my service. I am so proud of how much these adults have grown in their English, and how dedicated they are to their own learning. This year, we introduced an incentive program that allowed them to earn a certificate of accomplishment if they had more than 20 hours of attendance at English Club. We had 8 students that exceeded 20 hours, with most of them having more than 30 hours, and 2 of them more than 40 hours. Certificates in Mozambique are highly valued, often added to portfolios and used to show potential employers. It was great to celebrate our adult students ongoing dedication with them at their certificate ceremony during our last week of service.

-Completing a Procedures Manual for our Primary School Library. I worked on and off for months this year to put into writing everything we have been doing at the library for the past two years. The manual includes everything from teacher trainings to library maintenance and basic procedures, and a whole lot more. I am hoping that after I leave this project, the manual will help the project continue to grow in the direction it’s been going.

My 3 favorite things about life in Mozambique

-The high value on relationships. The more time I spent in Mozambique, the clearer this value became. This value shows in small ways, like in the constant stream of greetings while walking anywhere, and in big ways, like the willingness of most Mozambicans to drop whatever they are doing and help someone else. Mostly though, it is seen in the shade of trees, where people sit for hours and hours chatting and enjoying each other’s company.

-The colors and textures that make up every scene; the richness. Green plants and red dirt are the constant background of Mozambique. Laid over the top are women wearing a rainbow-spectrum of capulana fabric, walking with a baby on their back and/ or a bundle of wood on their head, sitting beneath a tree selling fruits, walking and talking in groups. Laid on top are kids pushing homemade soda-can-and-wire cars or marching to school with rakes for their ‘community work,’ men talking on verandas or fixing cars or pushing carts of goods.  Laid on top is laundry on lines and wood cooking fires, rusty cars and goats on bus tops. Everywhere you look in Moz, there is life and color.

-Being a part of the communal thread that runs through every aspect of life. One of the most demonstrative examples of this came recently when Alex was sick in the clinic with malaria. The clinic didn’t serve food, and there were no restaurants nearby. Knowing what I know about Moz, I walked into the neighborhood to find him some rice. I saw a woman sitting under a tree in her yard, asked permission to enter, and was welcomed in. I explained the situation to her and asked if I could pay her a little to cook Alex some rice. “Sim sim,Somos iguais” -Yes, yes we are equals- she said and immediately got up and lit a wood fire to cook him rice. I sat in her yard chatting with her and her children and a neighbor until the rice was finished, at which point she did not even want to accept my payment of 50 meticais (about 75 cents). This is a big and clear example of community in Moz, but we experienced it in much more subtle ways in our day to day life as well, and feeling such a part of that give and take culture – something that was incredibly awkward 2 years ago- has come to be one of the most satisfying parts of life in Moz.

My 3 favorite things about Mozambicans and Mozambican culture

-That there is always time to stop and chat.

-That sentiment is easily expressed and unguarded.

-The ease of giving.

The tough stuff

This third third has been the smoothest of them all, and I can only think of one really tough thing, which was leaving. Leaving Mapinhane was much harder than leaving home in the States 2 years ago. When we left home, we were comforted by knowing that we would see all our friends and family there again, and that someday our life would once again come to resemble the life we had pre-Moz. On the contrary, when leaving Mozambique, we left with an uncomfortable uncertainty about when or if we will ever see our friends here again, and a heavy certainty that we will never have a life similar to what it was in Mapinhane.

The things I have missed most about the U.S.

I think these 3 things have stayed pretty steady through all three of the thirds.

-Seeing family and friends on a regular basis.

-Mountain lifestyle and access to lots and lots of recreation.

– Access to natural remedies, good quality supplements, and varied diet.

My 3 favorite moments with other PCV’s

-Collaborating with other Peace Corps Volunteers in southern Mozambique at the REDES workshop in June.

-Celebrating the end of our service with our Moz25 cohort group at our ‘Close of Service’ conference in Maputo in August.

– Meeting our replacements and getting to know them during their two weeks in Mapinhane in October. We leave feeling like we are leaving projects in good hands with them.

My 3 favorite travel moments

-Spending time on the Bazaruto Archipelago off the coast of Vilanculos.

Driving Cape Town to Durban with Alex’s family, especially our stop at the southernmost tip of Africa, our stay in sleepy Chintsa, and delicious curries in Durban.

-Finally visiting the beautiful and more isolated beach at Zavora, and spending an afternoon drinking Pina Coladas and watching humpback whales breaching.

The 3 most exciting things to look forward to

-Our upcoming COS (Close of Service) travels in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

-Reuniting and catching up with all of our friends and family in the United States.

-The big, wide open future…our next adventure, whatever it may be.

The Second Third

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Just like after the first third of our Peace Corps service passed, I can hardly believe that we are already at this point. We have just finished our Second Third, meaning we are now 18 months in with 9 (ish) months left in our service. Again I find myself thinking that nine months, or even 18, doesn’t feel all that long in the grand scheme of things. But sometimes when I think about all that has passed and changed and been learned and done in these months, it feels equivalent to the amount that passed and changed and was learned and done in about the 4 years prior to coming to Moz. For this, these months feel long and rich. Here’s a recap of some of the major moments, successes, and struggles from the Second Third.

My 3 biggest personal successes

– This Second Third of Peace Corps service came with some really rough times, as you will read below. The struggles that I faced during this period left me stronger in a number of ways, and I consider this one of my biggest successes from this period. After months of feeling frustrated and at a loss as to what to do for myself,  I put a lot of mental energy into actively flipping my perspective on life here. One way that I did this was to look for good moments each day, write them down and stick them up on my wall at the end of the day. My wall is now covered in little things people have said to me, beautiful everyday scenes that I have noticed, small successes at work, positive interactions between students, extra delightful meals I have eaten…the list goes on. This tactic has changed the way I see my days, and has kind of rewired my brain; I find myself looking for the good now so that I have something to write down each day, and from that initial motivation the habit just grows stronger. Of course, no matter how much you look for the good, uncomfortable emotions and experiences are part of life too. Another shift in my perspective has been learning how to be ok with uncomfortable emotions and to realize that they are part of a balanced mind and, like all thoughts and emotions, are only temporary. The final part of this growth is strengthening my ability to be grateful for frustrating experiences that can teach me something and learning to let go of those that can’t.

– Feeling at home, feeling comfortable, being myself and having strong friendships. I have written a little about this before, but it took me quite a long time to really feel at home here and to be myself and develop friendships. I don’t think I realized this until I suddenly felt a change in life here and realized that this is what it was. Around October last year, something here just clicked and I felt strongly at home and part of the community.

– Taking care of my physical health. Coming from a mountain lifestyle that was inevitably active, one of my biggest struggles here has been feeling strong, getting into an exercise routine, or finding ways to exercise that are even a fraction as fun as what we were used to in Colorado. I tried a number of ‘programs’ and am now almost to the end of a ‘month of yoga’ challenge and I don’t think I have felt this strong since we’ve been here.

My 3 biggest personal challenges

– Uncomfortable self-growth. That abovementioned success was one of the hardest-ever life prizes to earn. Learning how to change how I perceive my environment, learning to change how I perceive what’s goin on in my own mind, and learning to sit with uncomfortable emotions did not come without a large amount of strife. There was a period where it felt like changing my thought patterns felt like a full-time job.

– A string of physical health issues, feeling less healthy than I was used to and feeling physically weaker and more out of shape as time went on.

– Comparisons between myself and Alex and how our skills and contributions are recognized differently. There have been countless times where someone will say to me “Alex does…..why don’t you?” or “Alex knows how to….why don’t you?” Of course, on the flip side, there are things that I know how to do that Alex doesn’t, but he has never once been confronted with a statement like this. My response used to be to try and defend myself. Now, I say “Alex is Alex and I am me. We are different people. We do different things. We know different things.” Additionally, Alex has a variety of skills here that are very visible: gardening and speaking local language being the two most often praised. As my skills are less visible-remembering people’s names, working with counterparts on various projects, working in a variety of areas- they are often less praised. These things combined can make it tricky to remember to appreciate our differences and to not let the comparisons get me down.

The 3 things I am most proud of at school

– Understanding a bit more how Mozambican kids tick and, thus, learning and implementing a handful of effective classroom management strategies in the context of a Mozambican classroom. For me, these include implementing a points and rewards-based behavior program and using leveled groups to build confidence and more efficiently foster learning in a classroom of 50.

– Being a ‘Diretora de Turma,’ kind of like a homeroom teacher, for this second year of teaching. My school chose me for this extra  position and I am enjoying it so far. It was described to me as being more or less the ‘class mama’ to one of the groups of 8th grade students. This includes communicating with their parents, managing their academic progress, working with other teachers to manage academic progress, managing their overall classroom behavior and relationships within the group, and, by my choice, working on lots of good life qualities, like teamwork, respect, and recognizing good qualities in others. I really enjoy working with kids in these areas outside of the classroom and see this as a good chance for me to strengthen a different set of skills.

– Being more confident as a teacher. From the first day of classes this year, I could tell that my confidence and strength as a teacher here had gone up a lot since last year. I can see a difference in how I handle situations in the classroom, how I relate to the kids, and how I plan and carry out lessons.

My 3 biggest struggles at school

– Adults that say  certain kids ‘know nothing.’ The phrase ‘Ele/Ela não sabe nada’ always feels like a slap in the face to me, and the conversations about different types of intelligence seem never-ending. As someone that comes from a culture that believes that everyone knows something, these types of statements feel almost like a poison in the school system here.

-Students’ lack of confidence in themselves and in their ability to learn, and the variety of factors that contribute to this thinking, like being told they know nothing, being laughed at when they answer questions incorrectly, or being called a ‘donkey’ or a ‘goat.’

– The more lax scheduling and planning and the occasional lack of dissemination of information. Sometimes meetings happen and no one tells us. Sometimes the test schedule or the class schedule is put up the day before…and no one tells us. Sometimes it seems like no one knows what is supposed to be happening when.

My 3 most worthwhile contributions to secondary projects, and progress made on goals

– In my First Third post, I stated the goal of starting a REDES group- a group for girls involving health, education, and personal development topics- at the primary school and at my secondary school. This year, I have worked with an awesome 12th grade female student (who attended the REDES trainings with me last year) to start a group for the 10 youngest girls in 8th grade at the secondary school where I teach. Working with girls was a big goal of mine in coming here and I am so happy our group got off the ground this year.

– I also previously stated the goal of facilitating a literacy and library training day in my community. What ended up happening was even better than ME facilitating a literacy training: a couple of weeks ago my Mozambican counterpart on the library project organized and planned a literacy training for 11 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade teachers. He is the pedagogical director-like a vice principal- at the school where the library is located and was complaining to me one day that teachers don’t use the library as much as they could. I told him if he chose teachers I would help him carry out a training, and he ran with the idea. He organized the teachers and planned the material based off the training he went to with me last year. He told me which parts to cover, and he covered other parts. The training left me grinning the rest of the day; I was so happy to see what a compatable team we have become as we presented a variety of literacy topics and talked about how teachers can use them in their classrooms. In addition to this, we now have 4 facilitators at the library that work with small groups of struggling students each week.

– As noted after the first third, I still consider our Adult English Club to be one of the most worthwhile and ‘organic’ projects we could have done. We are continuing the club this year with our new sitemate, Sam, and some new adult learners mixed in with last year’s group. Seeing how the group from last year has grown in their level of English, their confidence, their complexity of questions, and their eagerness to tackle higher level English is a weekly reminder of why we came here. I am amazed at their self-motivation, the fact that they show up early and leave late every week. In addition to this, a few of the members of this club have become our best friends in Mapinhane, and the weekly club meeting was one of the first spaces here where I felt like I could be myself.

The top 3 things I hope to still accomplish in my secondary projects

– Working with my REDES student leader to organize mini-workshop days at our school. Our club is made up of ten girls but there are a lot more girls who have expressed interest in being involved. The program is designed for small groups, so we can’t include all the girls that are interested in our regular meetings. However, I hope to work with Marizia, my student leader counterpart, to organize 2 or 3 days that are open to any girl at school to come and receive the information and do some of the activities in break-out groups.

– Complete the second half of our literacy training with the group of 11 teachers. The second session will include training on ‘read alouds’ in the classroom and activities to do for comprehension, as well as training on how to use our big collection of leveled readers and decodable books in the classroom. We will then observe the teachers using the new skills they learned, and they will receive a certificate for participation.

– Strengthen our Student English Club. Last year our Student English Club felt like babysitting a large group of crazy boarding house boys for an hour every week. It certainly didn’t feel like the most worthwhile use of time for us or for the students and we are hoping to change it up this year. We would like to do more long projects to keep the same students coming back each week and to ‘weed out’ some of the students that come just for a way to get out of the boarding house for a while. Our biggest idea is to have the students work on short theater pieces and/ or short ‘films.’

My 3 favorite things about life in Mozambique

– Variety in my work week. I am a person of many interests and, although sometimes it wears me out to switch gears so much, ultimately I love that over the course of a week I get to teach English to 8th graders, teach English to Brazilian nuns, teach English to Mozambican adults, read books and play literacy games with 3rd graders, work with a primary school vice principal to strengthen programming at the library, work with 8th grade girls to develop life skills, and work with a 12th grade student leader and see her leadership skills grow.

– Still, the calmer, slow pace of life. The fact that someone comes over to say hello and ends up staying for two hours, that I feel so much less rushed  and less pressured to get a million things done each day, that taking breaks is expected, and that cooking takes a great deal of time and care.

– The connectedness of people. There seems to always be an ongoing conversation happening, wherever I go here. This is hard to describe, but sometimes it is demonstrated in the way people get around and the way they ‘occupy space.’ People here walk or ride in buses with other people, so just to get from one place to another means talking to at least one person, probably many more. People here sit outside in their free time, so this means greeting and chatting with anyone who passes. People here buy food directly from other people in the market, so this is another location where conversations grow. It took some getting used to and some days it is still wearing, but mostly I am comforted by the amount of conversation that happens, the amount of contact, and just the feeling of being connected and being a part of a very communal community.

My 3 least favorite things about life in Mozambique

– The amount of living things that exist during the summertime/hot season. I think this summer has been worse because of the amount of rain, but there have been a number of times this summer season that I have said, ‘I can’t wait to go back to a place where it’s winter for 7 months and everything is dead or sleeping!’ We battle with mosquitoes, camel spiders, centipedes, ginormous grasshoppers and praying mantis, the occasional scorpion, the occasional elusive snake in the neighborhood, a handful of strange unknown creatures, bats in the ceiling and in the bathroom, and approximately a jillion tiny, spastic ants. Cockroaches and regular-sized spiders don’t count…I don’t even notice them anymore.

-Our communal bathroom situation. At first, sharing a bathroom with the rest of the ‘hood didn’t bother me too much; having a real toilet and cold running showers is a pretty good deal by Peace Corps Moz standards. However, as time has worn on this situation has worn on me. The constantly dirty, wet, smelly toilet stalls and the prevalence bats in the bathroom at night leave me calculating how much time I am going to spend just sitting in our very own, private, clean bathroom when we get back to the US. Not to mention having to walk past numerous colleagues and, usually, students every time I am going to do my business in the bathroom or take a shower. Dear privacy, I miss you!

– Still, drunk and/or entitled men. It feels like my blood is boiling every time a man looks me up and down, says I am beautiful, tells me he wants to break my marriage and marry me, and countless other unsavory comments. The difference now versus in the first third is that we have developed a number of really close friendships with wonderful Mozambican men; this keeps me from making blanket statements about ‘Mozambican men’ because there are a lot of great ones too.

My 3 favorite things about Mozambican culture and people

I think I best described these already, in my post, The Heart of a Mozambican.

-Unquestioned and unending generosity.

– A priority on people, spending time with people and building relationships.

– Pride in whatever they have and whoever they are.

The tough stuff

Like I mentioned above, cumulatively, this second third included five of the hardest months I have ever experienced. What began as insomnia in May turned into other mysterious health issues that lasted from about July to September. Dealing with ongoing health issues on top of the variety of challenges of learning to live and work here led to a lot of frustration, fear, hopelessness, and mental exhaustion until the end of September arrived and I said out loud for the first time ‘ I don’t think I can do this for another 14 months.’ I had been building up to this ‘last resort’ option of going home and finally, at a loss for what to do for my body and mind, we seriously considered going home after the school year ended last year. My doctor’s appointments were a plane ride away, in the capitol, and usually meant me missing a week of work, while my students back at site were constantly asking Alex what was wrong with me. When I returned, still with unresolved health issues, I was greeted with lots and lots of ‘You disappeared’ statements, a loss of momentum with work and projects, and, most daunting of all, the task of learning how to be okay with all of it.

This small paragraph cannot even begin to recap or describe the struggle I felt during that time and it all feels like a strange and, at times, miserable dream, with the glimmers of the things that kept me going mixed in there somewhere: time spent with the Sara/h’s and with Alex, occasional visits with other Peace Corps Volunteers, small successes at work, Adult English Club, days at the library, budding relationships with people at site, the Indian Ocean, good books, good food, my parent’s visit, looking forward to friends coming, and all the other little moments that added up to make it bearable.

I can say now that I am immensely glad that we didn’t leave at the end of last year. What is happening this year, at this point in our service, reminds me at least a couple of times each week of life’s balance. Those miserable times led me to here. Those months forced me to develop and grow in myself skills that now feel like the  ‘bread and butter’ of how I look at life, handle challenges, and view myself. Man, am I glad they’re over, but I sure am grateful for having been through those months and come out the other side.

The 3 things I have missed most about the United States

– Seeing our friends and family on a regular basis and celebrating milestones in their lives right there with them.

– Mountain livin’ and having a lifestyle that helped keep my body and mind healthy and strong.

-Clean, private bathrooms.

My 3 favorite moments with other PCV’s

– Being with our sitemate, Sarah, as she closed out her service in Mapinhane. It was refreshing to see how people expressed their gratitude for her being here and said so many kind words about how she had impacted them in so many small ways.

– Countless nights spent with Alex and the Sara/h’s cooking, dreaming up culinary masterpieces, playing cards, watching movies, doing puzzles, and drinking Shandies.

-Weekend brunches at our friend Beth’s house in Vilanculos.

My 3 favorite travel moments

– Riding chapas (mini-buses)  and tuks tuks (three-wheeled, partially enclosed mini-taxis) in Vilanculos with my parents.

– Picnicking in the luscious grass at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town.

-An early morning meander at Victoria Falls, having the place to ourselves for a bit.

The 3 most exciting things to look forward to in the third, and final, third

– Soaking up 9 more months in this place so different than our home: spending time with friends here, enjoying the slow pace of life, visiting the beach frequently, buying dirt cheap seasonal fruits and veggies, and taking in all the weird and wonderful everyday occurrences.

– Some of Alex’s family-including his mom, aunt, and uncle- coming and doing some travelling with them in June and July.

-Successfully completing our 27 months of Peace Corps Service.

Newton’s Third Law in the Peace Corps

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Bits of cardboard, plastic water bottles, duct tape, balloons, sewing thread, and popsicle sticks have become a constant presence in our house. Alex is testing out ideas for the science club he plans to start this year, and these are the makings of all his Alexperiments.

On one recent day he explained to me how Newton’s Third Law was at play in the launching of a plastic water bottle rocket; If Newton’s Third Law says that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, then we can see that as the air pressure shoots out the bottom of the ‘rocket’ the ‘rocket’ shoots up into the sky.

A refreshing lesson in physics, sure, but the other side of my brain got to thinking about how Newton’s Third Law applies to my everyday life in Mozambique.

One thing that I’ve noticed starkly about this second year of Peace Corps is a sense that, although I am still affected by the environment around me, I am much more grounded overall. Last year I frequently had images of myself being drug along or kind of just ‘blowing in the wind’ until it stopped for a second and I could put my feet on the ground. Recently though, I have had images of myself like one of those spring-legged figurines that can be suctioned to any surface; there are forces that tip me to this side and that, but I spring back pretty quickly and my ‘feet’ are always in the same place.

One side that I see myself tipping to, I call the ‘chega’ side. Chega in Portuguese means ‘enough.’ So, when I am pushed to this side it is by something that makes me say ‘Ok, chega Mozambique. I’ve had about enough of your hijinks.’  Or simply, ‘Chega. I am ready to go home now.’

The other side I call the ‘fica’ side. Fica in Portuguese means ‘stay.’ So, when I am pushed to this side it is because something lovely has happened that reminds me this a good place to be right now and I want these moments to ‘fica’ in my mind.

Now, how does Newton’s Third Law tie in?

First, we must tweak it a little bit to say that for every action in day to day life here, there comes an equal and opposite action that causes an equal and opposite reaction.

For example:

I am walking on the street and a man I don’t know says to me in Portuguese, “You’re beautiful!” as he looks me up and down, raising his eyebrows. Chega.

I am walking down the street and a woman smiles and says to me in Portuguese, “You’re beautiful today!” as she looks me up and down. Fica!

Or:

I miss the peace that being in the mountains brings me. Chega.

I have come to find peace being at the nearby ocean. Fica!

Or:

I feel disconnected from friends at home when I realize I haven’t talked to certain people for months and am anxious to reconnect with them. Chega.

I feel connected here when I talk daily with Mozambican friends about their health, their job, their worries, and their desires. Fica!

Or:

Someone relentlessly calls me ‘Mulungo’ (white person), even after I tell them, ‘I am not just a white person. I am a teacher here. You can call me Teacher.’ Chega.

When this person still won’t stop, someone else relentlessly argues that I am a teacher here and should be addressed as a teacher, or by my name. Fica!

I realize more and more each day that Peace Corps is one big mind game with myself. Strengthening the ability to feel gratitude and stay positive is important anywhere and at any phase of life. Here, as it is normal to feel slightly uncomfortable all the time due to heat, language, cultural differences, homesickness and so on, I find this task of learning how to put things in perspective to be at the forefront of my mind; I am happy each time I find a little trick that helps me do so.

Now, thanks to the launching of water bottle rockets in the backyard, for each grumble I make, for each time I think ‘Chega Moz!’ I can try to let go of that moment by remembering that the equal and opposite ‘Fica’ moment will make itself known soon after, as long I am looking for it.

3 Smiles and A Struggle: The First Trimester,What You Can’t Take Pictures Of, Simplicity, and The Gender Thing

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The Indian Ocean is perfect today: calm and windless, reflecting the low morning sun. We are in Vilanculos at the end of the first trimester, the beginning of the first short break. Yesterday, I put the wrong month on my hostel check-in form, proof, I suppose, that the time has gone so quickly I can hardly keep up.

Our first trimester has come and gone: 96 students, 68 class periods, 864 grades handwritten (once in pencil and over top again in pen, making a total of 1,728 grades handwritten), and 2 GIRLS that earned the highest marks in 8th grade.

One down, five more to go.

I am smiling about this, our first bit of work in a foreign school system, my first bit of work with kids older than 10, my first time leading a classroom. And all of the little successes along the way: students greeting me as the come into the classroom, students devouring children’s books in English, the kids who passed, and the kids who didn’t pass but improved.

I am happy too because ahead of us are 5 more opportunities, 5 more trimesters, to get creative with teaching, get to know the students, and learn about myself as a teacher.

Now, a few readers and friends and family members have requested that I put more pictures up on the blog. We are visual beings, I understand. But I must tell you that there are way more special things in Mozambique that cannot be captured in a picture than things that can be.

In my pictures, you have seen the beach in Vilanculos, the women in colorful capulanas, the singing and dancing at church, a few cute kids, our classrooms, our house, and even the food we eat.

But what I can’t show you are the conversations I can’t take pictures of. Alex and I went out to the market recently to buy one bell pepper, five pieces of bread, and 2 beers.

We first arrived at the small, open-air vegetable market. We have about ten stalls in our market, and about five women who are there consistently. Sometimes we buy tomatoes from one, onions from another, peppers from a third, cucumber from a fourth, and…..sorry, fifth market lady, that’s all the vegetable variety there is. The next time we’ll switch it up.

The market is a place to buy vegetables. It is also a place to be around the usually warm company of Mozambican women. And it is the place to practice our local language, Shitswa. On this particular day, we picked up our pepper and spent about half an hour, repeating Shitswa that was fired at us from the market ladies, getting corrected and repeating it again, taking in their good-natured laughter at our pronunciation of sounds we didn’t even know were words.

Now we can say ‘We are going home to work.’

If we can remember 🙂

Next we went around the corner to our friend Marcia’s shop. Marcia knows me well already; she knows that if it is too hot or if it is nearing a meal time and I am hungry, I probably won’t stick around to chat. These are times when my patience dwindles and my brain doesn’t do Portuguese.

But most days, we chat at least a little. Sometimes with Alex and sometimes without, Marcia and I have talked about relationships in Mozambique and relationships in America, health problems, her late Portuguese husband, what we are cooking, where we are going. I believe I may finally have convinced her that Alex absolutely will not hit me if I do something wrong.I have almost convinced her that Alex knows how to cook, and will survive if I don’t arrive at lunchtime to make him an egg sandwich. I have not yet convinced her that I do, indeed, like the capulana she bought me for my birthday. Before we started our Adult English Class, I would practice English with her almost every day, teaching her how to say, “My teacher disappeared and I had to go on learning alone because she didn’t come to teach me,” (presented to me in a letter that outlined my total desertion of my friend Marcia….”I saw you two days ago Marcia…”), “I will hit you. I will kill you,” (for when she goes to America and people are following her),”If you don’t want me, just say so,” (breaking up with a boyfriend), and the essentials like, “it is very hot today,” “see you tomorrow,” and “I like pineapple and tomato.”

The spectrum of conversation with Marcia alone nearly captures life here.

Ok, so, we were out for a pepper, beer, and bread right?

Forty five minutes later, we move from Marcia’s to the shop of a man deemed my Mapinhane PCV’s as Cheap Beer Guy.

Cheap Beer Guy isn’t much of a conversationalist. And I do need to capture Cheap Beer Guy in a picture. And I need to do this on the next day he is wearing his leopard-print, women’s, fitted tank.

Our final stop is at Celia’s for bread. Celia is interesting in that sometimes she is happy and smiling and wants us to help her name her niece and other days she looks past you as if you are an apparition and will say nothing other than, “Okay,” with a particularly high-pitched emphasis on the “O.”

But this week, she named her niece Jessica.

“O que e a significa de nome Jessica?” she asked us recently. What is the meaning of the name Jessica.

Google.

“Uma pessoa que pode ver o futuro,” Alex told her. A person who can see the future (a person who has foresight..but how the heck do you say that in Portuguese on the fly??)

Before we bought our bread, she let us know that Jessica was officially Jessica, then we talked about how her sister doesn’t know how to care for girl babies because she only has boys. You can teach her,we said, you have both. It is very different, she said. We think so too…Alex has only boys in his family and I have only girls…it is very different, we said.

Then there was the normal mid-conversation moment of silence.

“Have you cooked Matapa alone again yet?” she asked me.

I told her I hadn’t. I told her I wanted to learn to make beans next because when I make beans they are never as good as Mozambican beans. She said we will do that. I told her I would bring her sweet potato bread next time I make it.

With pepper, beer, and bread in hand, we wandered home an hour later, no pictures, no visuals to show or remember these conversations, these daily happenings that make-up our time in Mozambique.

So, we go about our days like this, passing large chunks of time chatting with people. It’s a simple thing. And when my sister recently asked me what we have been doing for fun lately, all I could think to tell her were all the other things we do here that are so simple, but make our life here full: we have been making a lot of good food, reading, talking to people around town, hanging out with the Sara/h’s.

Despite the daily challenges, life in Moz is pretty clear and simple. And for this, I smile a lot.

Now, daily challenges brings us to the recent struggle: The Gender Thing. In the last couple of weeks, I have started to notice how Alex and are sometimes treated differently here. Sometimes we walk around town and it is as if I am wearing an invisibility cloak, as all the men we pass neglect to greet me. Sometimes, male teachers continually question the way I am doing something, while leaving Alex alone to do the same exact thing. Sometimes he knows about meetings and school procedures that no one told me about. And it’s not just on my side, as a woman. Whether or not he struggles with it, Alex gets different treatment too sometimes: no one believes that he, as a man, can cook and take care of himself, for example.

We have heard this happens to married couples here and we have certainly heard about gender inequity in Mozambique. There are also some justifications. For example, maybe males in town think it is inappropriate to talk to another man’s wife.

And of course, there are some comforts. Most of the males we interact with, don’t treat me much differently than they treat Alex. With them, as well as our female friends, we have gotten into good conversations, shared meals, and trusted with our questions at shcool.

With our first 5 months at site behind us, we go into our break with all of this on our mind and so much more ahead. For the next week, we are on to the big cities for some conferences, hot showers, and delicious food.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Smiles and a Struggle: Visiting Mapinhane, Halloween with the Neighbors, Our First Portuguese Test, and Our Homestay

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The last week, in general, was pretty much smiles. Our group was sent to all corners of the country to visit currently serving volunteers and see what the day to day of a Peace Corps Volunteer looks like. Alex got to fly to Manica province and visit a mountainous site, and I got to take a 12 hour bus ride to northern Inhambane. The payoff, though, was that I got to spend a day in beautiful Vilanculos, relaxing by the Indian Ocean. I then visited the small town of Mapinhane for 4 days. The awesome PCV’s here made our visit by sharing so many personal stories of life in Moz, cooking us delicious food (cinnamon rolls!), and letting us observe their classes and follow them around town. I loved Mapinhane and Vilanculos, and it was such a welcome break from the rigorous schedule of training.

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The three trainees that visited Mapinhane.

The three trainees that visited Mapinhane, walking in Mapinhane.

The second smile was celebrating Halloween in Moz. I will admit that I wasn’t in the best mood yesterday (blame PMS, malaria meds, and sleep deprivation from the 14 hour return bus ride on Thursday), but we still had a good time. We brought two of our neighbor gals to a trick or treat street at our Peace Corps science training hub. Between all the volunteers, we had about 70 kids there eatin candy, bobbing for apples, dancing, and coloring.

Happy Halloween from Winnie and Lulu, the cats!

Happy Halloween from Winnie and Lulu, the cats!

Alex and me in our first-ever couple's costume. The brand of peanut butter here is 'Black Cat,' so I dressed up as a black cat and he dressed up as a jar of peanut butter. We were the same thing in different costumes :) It was a hit!

Alex and me in our first-ever couple’s costume. The brand of peanut butter here is ‘Black Cat,’ so I dressed up as a black cat and he dressed up as a jar of peanut butter. We were the same thing in different costumes 🙂 It was a hit!

The third smile this week was that both Alex and I passed our first language test at and above the level we needed by the end of training. Success! And with 4 weeks to spare 🙂

The struggle this week was returning to our homestay. While it is comforting and comfortable in some ways, it was hard to be out and about in Moz cooking, relaxing, and getting a taste of life at site and then have to return to the schedule of training and the less-free environment of living in someone else’s house. We are settling back in here in Namaacha, with about 3 and a half weeks of training left!

An orange pumpkin sunset on Halloween in Namaacha.

An orange pumpkin sunset on Halloween in Namaacha.

Photos from our first two-nighter

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We recently completed our first two-night backpacking trip in RMNP of the season and I put this photo slideshow together. Our trip started at the Long’s Peak trail head. We spent our first night at the Moore Park camp site. On our second day we hiked about 7 miles to the Boulder Brook group site. That day we took a side trip to Mills Lake and Jewel Lake. On the third and last day we got up early to hike up and over Granite Pass, which took us right by the base of longs. Finally, we left our packs off the trail and took a side trip to Chasm Lake. Our whole loop, with the side trips, was about 26 miles! Enjoy the photos and read the posts below to hear more about the trip.

3 Smiles and A Struggle: Culture Week, Anniversaries, Small Stuff, and Fizzling

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The first month of this trimester found me in a state of rising momentum and energy, as we prepared for Culture Week. This year I am a Directora da Turma, kind of like a homeroom teacher and class mom rolled into one, for one of the streams of 8th graders. One of the biggest tasks of a DT at our school is helping your class prepare for Culture Week, which is a long weekend in which each stream of students competes with the others in a variety of activities. Preparation included weeks of putting together and rehearsing modern and traditional dance, musical imitation, traditional storytelling, poetry, a class anthem, and modeling capulana clothing, plus making some recycled art, drawing and painting a class banner, and ordering matching shirts and capulanas.

The experience of preparing for Culture Week was a whole new one for me, something completely fresh at a point in service where I expected to be coasting through to the end. It made me feel like a real newb again at points, like when one of our colleagues chuckled because I didn’t know how we would order shirts from Maputo and get them the 700ish kilometers up here to us in Mapinhane.

“Don’t you know someone in Maputo that can just put them on a bus for you?” he asked.

‘No. No I don’t,’ I wanted to say. ‘Because in my country I would order on the internet and they would arrive at my doorstep via UPS. Do you know someone that can put them on a bus for me?’ Lucky for me, he did know someone.

Or when I got flustered amidst the yelling of all the 8th graders and accidentally told them to form bichos (small bugs) instead of bichas (lines), a language error reminiscent of my first couple of months here.

But any experience that can bring service full circle like this is one worth having; I thought of myself trying to accomplish these things 2 years ago, or even 1 year ago: coordinating rehearsals of 44 8th graders arguing in local language, collecting money and ordering clothes, dealing with all the small hiccups that inevitably arise during a big event like this, and just being a leader to kids, all in a second language nonetheless. In thinking back on how it may have gone for me a year or two ago, I realized just how much I have learned and grown here. Not to say it all passed without stress, frustration, and confusion, but I could notice starkly the difference in how I deal with those things now in comparison to how it would have gone a year or two ago.

As if that weren’t reason enough to smile, Culture Week in itself was a huge high point of service. I realized how much I love working with students outside the classroom, and how interesting it is to see their personalities and skills in a different setting. In addition, it was awesome to watch them take ownership, and come out of the event feeling proud, excited, and united. When it came down to the actual event, I was so impressed with them, and happy with the level of ease and comfort in the communication between myself and them. On the last day of Culture Week, I was feeling a bit of pre-nostalgia about leaving Moz and leaving our students after spending these weeks getting so close to them and seeing them in a new light.

Check out this video we made to share the best of Culture Week!

 

My next smile came this past weekend, when Alex and I got to celebrate our 4th wedding anniversary, as well as our 12 year anniversary of being together. With the passing of each year together, we are always given a marker from which we can look back and see how we have grown and evolved. This year, so close to the end of Peace Corps Service, we have another marker to look back on and see the changes and, at the same time, a lot of changes to look ahead to.

“It won’t be the hardest thing we’ve ever done,” Alex said about going home and readjusting, finding jobs and a home.

“What is?” I asked him.

It only took a few moments of contemplation before we both decided that it was this. Peace Corps is the hardest thing we’ve ever done together.

For this, we were happy for the opportunity to spend the weekend in a peaceful, quiet place, have quality time together, reconnect outside of our daily routine, and have physical space to wander, anonymously, and without interruption.

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The third smile is in the small stuff. After the build up to Culture Week, the couple of weeks since then have brought a steady decline in momentum and energy; after all the newness and excitement, the day to day feels a little flat and boring. Despite knowing that this is probably the last chunk of time that I will have the luxury of feeling bored for a while, I still feel the need to combat the humdrum a little bit. I have been challenging myself to try a number of new, small things lately to keep my energy up a bit. Mostly, I’ve been experimenting with new recipes, passed along by friends-coconut oil fudge and chocolate banana ice cream to name a couple, and trying out new types of yoga- like a Chakra series and Yoga Fit. It doesn’t sound like much, but the feeling of a little freshness has helped me keep on smiling through this stagnant period, and has helped me remember how powerful all the little stuff is.

On a similar note, my struggle lately has been with the feeling that my Peace Corps Service is kind of fizzling out. What I mean is that all signs point to us NOT going out with a bang. In the 7 weeks we have left, there are no more big events coming up, like Culture Week or a REDES workshop, and with the school year winding down, everyone’s energy is winding down too. Although we will have small going-away parties, there will be no big send-off, no ‘cymbal clap’ on the day we leave. Our last goodbye will probably be us standing on the side of the road, just like any other trip to Vilanculos, sweating and trying to flag down a ride.

It was getting to be a pretty sad image, until I realized that this is Mozambique’s ultimate test to me. This is Moz asking, ‘Have you learned yet to appreciate all the small things? Have you learned to soak up the little smiles along the way? Do you know yet that it’s much less about the large accomplishment and much more about all the little moments?’

 
For me, this has been by far the biggest lesson of these two years, something I of course knew before in theory but has been tested relentlessly here, and has subsequently become a major value of mine. So, as is often the case, life is not full of energy and excitement right now, but still there’s always something of a smile around the corner.

With that, I keep asking myself, ‘When I am standing on the side of the road for the last time, sweating and flagging down a ride like it’s any other day, will I choose to feel satisfied with all the little smiles that have made up these two years?’

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3 Smiles and A Struggle: The 2nd Year Feeling, The People Around Me, Normalcy, and Fearing the End

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‘I’m not afraid anymore! You hear me? I’m not afraid anymore!’

I left the second day of school on Tuesday, chuckling to myself as these words, originally spoken by Kevin McCallister in Home Alone, drifted into my head. No, the thought was not spurred, as it was for Kev, by scary burglars outside my house and a plan to blow torch their scalps and zipline away to my treehouse. It was spurred by a feeling of elation as I realized how comfortable I had just been in front of my 8th graders.  Not quite as exciting, really, but kind of a big moment for me.

Big kids used to scare me perhaps as much as Marv and Harry scared little Kevin at first.

Before coming to Mozambique, I had worked with children from about 1-11 years old in preschool and elementary school settings. They loved me, mostly, and thought I was super cool. That felt good. Big kids, on the other hand, seemed to stare into the souls of their poor teachers, ticked off and rarely complimentary. So, when I came to work in a secondary school here I was at once excited for the Big Kid experience and intimidated by them. Although I didn’t think I was afraid of them last year, looking back I know I was. They were new creatures to me; I didn’t understand their habits or what their looks meant or what motivated them or much of what they even needed from me as a teacher and as an adult in their lives. But I learned a lot along the way.

I’m no sage now, but I know enough to at least not be scared of the big kids. So, the first smile is about the 2nd-year-feeling. For me, this has two sides.

The first side is this: Since graduating college almost five years ago, I have switched jobs every year. While I am ultimately glad that I have dabbled as much as I have, and while I feel that I learned immensely from each job, it was an incredible feeling to start this, my first 2nd year in any job ever. It was amazing to not feel like the new person, to know at least the basics of what is going on and what is expected of me, to understand the routines of this job and how to accomplish what needs to be done, and to feel a level of general comfort that I have never felt before in a work environment.

The second side of this feeling is the sense of disbelief and accomplishment that we are actually starting our 2nd year of Peace Corps Service. While many days of the first year dragged by slowly, and while so many chunks of time felt filled up with little more than struggling through, I stand at this point, this marker of an end and a beginning, and it feels like that first year flew by. Because of the moments of wanting to throw my hands up and go home, of feeling lost, and generally unwell, I am now starkly aware of being so glad that we stayed for this second year.

Along the lines of feeling this lovely comfort on the work side of my service, the second smile comes in noticing the comfort and connectedness with our community. After spending most of our summer break away, we are settling back into life in Mapinhane now and, although they might not know it, the people around us are making it easy. The moments of interacting with all the people here who we have formed relationships with make it feel like we are picking up right where we left off. Some of these moments leave me smiling about people’s motivation: a student from last year asking that I continue to give him extra English work like I did last trimester, my library counterpart asking me if we will work there again, my 12th-grade REDES counterpart coming over to ask when we are starting our girl’s group, a colleague telling me he wants to do a student English Club this year, the start back to Adult English Club. The other moments are those that I have come to appreciate so much, the ones that make me feel a part of this community: a parent and fellow teacher coming over to say her son is excited to have me as a teacher, a friend bringing us food from her garden, Marcia telling me not to be nervous with my students, and the greetings and easy conversation with last year’s students.

With these first two smiles, there comes a realization that life here feels normal now. It is normal to have friends and students stopping by. It is normal to spend an hour getting to the market 5 minutes away because of stopping to chat with people along the way. It is normal that our class schedule will inevitably change 5ish more times. It’s normal to be pulled in many directions and wear many different hats each day. It’s normal and ok to not understand what’s going on sometimes. It’s even normal to feel sweaty all the time. Whether it’s in relishing the wonderful ‘new-normal’ moments, or in learning how to better handle the frustrating ‘new-normal’ moments, it’s a bit mind boggling to realize how much change a person can get used to over time. And thus comes the third smile: for not feeling so much like a lost foreigner anymore.

Finally, with all these happy feelings bouncing around lately, my struggle is in fearing the end. As I wrote about previously, it took a real long time for me to feel mostly comfortable here because it took a real long time to form all of these delightful abovementioned routines and relationships, and these are the things that most satisfy me here. Although there were many happy moments and successes personally and professionally throughout the months, I don’t think my mind and heart really settled in Moz until about last October. So now, with less than 12 months left, I am having mild sad feelings that the end seems in sight just as it is getting so good, and mild fear that the time is going to pass so quickly that I won’t be able to properly soak it up. The real struggle is in reminding myself how much can happen and change in a year’s time-as proven by the past year, and by life in general- and in reminding myself how much more is still yet to come and how many inevitable ups and downs there will be along the way.  The strategy for combatting fear of the future: continuing to actively notice good little moments each day, and in deciding to take notice being able to savor them.

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Zambia: Victoria Falls and Friends

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The perfect way to end a trip began with the perfect way to start a day. We rose early in Livingstone, Zambia, despite our weariness from travel. Three out of our group of 5 had just finished travelling across the world to visit the other 2 of us, as we were just wrapping up a month of travel.

We were the first to arrive at Victoria Falls at 6:15 a.m. that morning. As we woke up slowly and quietly, the falls rushed over the cliffs as always, their rumble breaking the silence of the morning as we approached.

The falls are unimaginable; a place that absolutely can’t be captured. It’s that ever-present rumble of of 625 million liters of water per minute falling off the cliffs. It’s the subsequent mist, drifting up and clinging to you. It’s the fragmented rainbows caught in the thin strands of water. It’s the jagged, jutting gorge. It’s that cloud in the distance that isn’t a cloud coming down from the sky, but a cloud coming up from the river. It’s the wondering how early explorers crossed this massive work of nature.

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These early morning hours that we had all to ourselves at the falls switched seamlessly between staring transfixed out into the water in awe and letting our silly nature bubble over. For Sarah (far left in our group pic) and I, this trip saw the start of our 10th year of friendship. For Sarah, Liesel (gal in the middle!) and I this trip was a reunion of our time spent as hiking buddies when we worked in Yellowstone in 2010. For Jared and Liesel, it was their first trip out of the country together, and a celebration of their first year of marriage. For Alex and I, it was our 8th African country and a much-anticipated visit from friends at the end of our first year teaching abroad.

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As proven time and and time again in my life, there’s no better way to get to know a friend than being together somewhere beautiful in spirit and scenery, and experiencing new things together.

We saw it in our laughing moments at Victoria Falls.

We saw it in the chance meeting of a new friend, Bwalya, an exceptional young Zambian woman that we met in an urgent attempt to find a bathroom one afternoon and then passed hours together over the following days.

We saw it in a New Year’s sunset river cruise, dancing for hours in a Zambian bar/club and, after counting UP to ten for the “ball drop,” escaping the chaos of a middle-of-the-street firework show.

With souls refreshed from friends and Falls, we entered into 2017. Cheers to a great year ahead!

Planning a trip to Victoria Falls:

Zimbabwe vs. Zambia: We chose to stay on the Zambia side during our visit to Victoria Falls, mainly because we had heard the Zimbabwe side gets very busy and a bit crazy during New Year’s with an annual festival that happens in the town of Victoria Falls.  We wanted a more mellow experience and are really happy that we chose the Zambia side! After staying a few days in Zambia and visiting the Zimbabwe side for a day, here are our impressions. Livingstone felt more like a normal town, whereas Victoria Falls felt more like a town built for tourists. This meant a few things and you can decide if they would be positives or negatives for you: we saw a lot less foreigners on the Zam side, we experienced considerably less ‘touting’ from vendors/ crafts and souvenirs were not as easy find, Livingstone felt like a small African city-a bit of trash in the streets, chickens about, familiar markets selling more than crafts. Second impression: in Livingstone, things are more spread out; it is necessary to take a taxi to the falls from town and getting around to markets and such requires some walking. Thirdly, the Zambia side seemed much cheaper to us for lodging and food. Finally, the main falls of Victoria Falls are located on the Zim side, with the many smaller falls on the Zam side. Personally, I enjoyed viewing all of the smaller falls more, and had a hard time seeing the main falls because of the amount of mist. Both sides were beautiful and it was worth seeing the falls from both sides and seeing both towns. It is important to note that I think overall we felt more comfortable in Livingstone because it was quieter and felt familiar and comfortable to us after living in Mozambique.

Getting there: We arrived in Livingstone, Zambia by air from Johannesburg. After researching the time and cost of good charter buses, like the Intercape Bus, it seemed a better use of our time and money to fly. It is worth noting that the price of flying into Lusaka (in which case we would have bused to Livingstone) was not considerably cheaper than flying straight to Livingstone.

Visas: We were so delighted to find upon arrival that the Kaza UNI Visa had been reinstated. This visa costs $50 and gets you multiple entry into Zambia and Zimbabwe, as well as day trips to Botswana. Otherwise, the Zambia single entry visa is $50 or a day trip entry for $20. The Zimbabwe single entry is $30, double entry is $45, and multiple entry is $55.

Lodging: We stayed at Fawlty Tours in Livingstone, Zambia. The five of us shared one dorm room (6 rooms per bed), but there are also private rooms and camping space available. This is a well-kept up hostel with a pool, beautiful garden, and clean shared kitchen for self-catering. They offer free transfers to the falls every day at 10 a.m., as well as free crepes every day at 3 p.m. They can also organize any and all tours or adventurous activities you would like to do at Victoria Falls. There are many, including bungee jumping, whitewater rafting, elephant back safari, ziplining, horeseback riding, micro-flight trips, helicopter tours, sunset river booze cruises, bicycle rentals…and more.

Money matters: The currency in Zambia is the Kwacha and the currency in Zimbabwe is the U.S. dollar. We saw plenty of ATM’s in both places and used our card to pay for lodging, food at nicer restaurants, and the park entry fee on the Zim side.