Category Archives: Peace Corps Mozambique

Sunday Snapshots: Time for Girls

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The 8th and 9th grade girls at school were buzzing with excitement on Thursday after I announced that they were all invited to a girls-only life skills workshop on Saturday. 

I am happy to have worked with an awesome student leader to  start a girls group this year that follows a program focused on health, education, and life skills development. There are 10 8th grade girls in the group, and we meet twice a month.

In order to include more girls, the 12th grade group leader and I planned a life skills workshop for the other girls at school. The 10 group members ran stations for the girls that came, covering the topics from our meetings so far:goals for the future, common gender roles and ‘thinking outside the box’ about gender roles, staying in school, strong communication, making good decisions, and strong friendships.

“Qualities of a good friend.”

Using every day scenarios to practice the 4 steps of strong communication.

Creating small theater pieces to show common gender roles of women and girls: cooking, cleaning, raising children, and helping elders.

Theater about common gender roles of boys and men: drinking, dancing, and playing.

Drawing successes from the past and goals for the future.

46 happy girls at the end of the workshop!

3 Smiles and A Struggle: Getting Strong, Looking Forward, Balance, and The Slumps

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The smiles and struggles are broad this time around, grouping the many happenings since the last time I wrote here. It feels overwhelming, after such an extended silence, to pick through all the little moments and choose just a few. So I thought instead about themes and patterns that might give a sense of what’s been going on lately.

One big theme and a hugely positive aspect of life in Moz lately has been my commitment to getting strong and feeling healthy again. Having arrived in Moz in probably the best shape of my life, I have struggled repeatedly here with the feeling of falling out of shape, of not having sufficient recreation to keep my strength up, of finding a steady work out routine in a schedule that is different every day, and with feeling healthy overall. On March 1 I committed to a 30 day Yoga Challenge from a YouTuber – SarahBeth Yoga. I completed the 30 days without missing a day and I marveled at that feeling of accomplishment and my own noticeably growing strength. For a couple weeks afterwards I continued to practice every day and play with the idea of challenging myself to 100 days of yoga, a feat that sounded nearly ridiculous or weirdly excessive at the time. But finally I decided to commit to that personal challenge as well. So, here I am on day 75. I have yet to miss a day, even if it was as simple as gentle stretching after being sick, spending 30 minutes playing in tree pose on the beach, or an easy 10 minutes in various legs-up-the-wall poses after a long day. After 18 of the most challenging months of my life, being intentional about taking time for my body and mind every single day has been one of the best things I have done for myself here. In addition, the long struggle with my fitness and health, and the mental turmoil it caused me, has solidified for me how much of a value health is for me. I need to feel strong. I need to feel healthy. And I need to do the things that make me feel that way.

The second smile these days comes in looking forward. In the next few weeks I will work with my library counterpart to hold our second literacy training for teachers at the primary school. The first training happened in March and I was so impressed with my Mozambican counterpart, who had the idea of the training and followed through with planning and organizing it and, finally, delegating tasks to me to help him carry out the training for 11 teachers.

In addition, I will work with my REDES group counterpart to plan and carry out an all-school workshop for girls at our school. REDES is a group for adolescent girls that covers topics regarding physical health, healthy relationships, and education. This year, I have worked with a 12th grade female student to hold meetings twice a month for ten 8th grade girls at our school. The program is designed for smaller groups, but we have had interest from so many other girls that we decided to hold 2 or 3 all-school workshops this year for any girl who wants to attend and participate in some of the activities that we do at our regular meetings.

After these events happen, we will be receiving visitors for a couple of weeks and are of course looking forward to that! In early June, one of our best friends, Sarah, will come to see us here in Mapinhane. This visit feels extra unique because it was during our visit to Sarah’s Peace Corps site in Tanzania in 2012 that the idea of doing Peace Corps together first seemed plausible to us. We met Sarah and two other friends at Victoria Falls for New Year’s and now she is headed back to this side of the world for a summer job in Tanzania, and has decided to stop through and see our Peace Corps site first.

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Me, Alex, and Sarah near her Peace Corps site in Tanzania in 2012.

A couple days after she leaves us, we will get a long-awaited visit from Alex’s mom, uncle, aunt, and aunt’s mom. As we have not gone home during our Peace Corps service, it has been a very long time since we’ve seen most of our family and we are looking so forward to seeing family before our last stretch of service. This gang of visitors will also visit us here in Mapinhane and then we plan to meet up with them in South Africa a few weeks later,  toward the end of their trip.I can’t wait for them to get a sense of our day to day life here, and to just have time to catch up face to face.

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Looking forward to a visit from Alex’s mom and fam!

With this flurry of events and visitors and travels, I know the time from now to mid-August is going to go by like the blink of an eye. By then, we’ll be looking at the last three months of our service. Not sure how to feel about that, but looking forward to everything in between now and then.

The final smile these last months has been an overall feeling of balance. Most of what has made me smile during Peace Corps has not really been tangible accomplishments, things I can check off a list, or say I “did.” Mostly what makes me smile is hearing “Teacher Cecelia!” shouted to me as a greeting from some hidden corner of a shop as I walk to the market, or having friends over for dinner so they can try American food, or spending countless hours chatting about every day things with people, or someone saying that Adult English Club is their favorite place in Mapinhane, or expressing how much they will miss us when we go in six months. These are the things we will grasp at later, wondering if it really happened the way we remember because there will be no proof other than how we remember these bright everyday moments. This being said, more so than last year, I have started to notice, along with the intangible smiles, tangible accomplishments that fill me up too. I smile about accomplishments in the classroom, like finding a positive behavior system to implement or teaching my “homeroom” group of kids a few important life skills. I smile about getting a REDES group off the ground, and watching as young girls start to open up and speak about important things in their lives. I smile about the teacher training at the library and the slow but definite progress of my counterpart taking ownership of that project. I smile about having helped facilitate sessions at a training for the newer group of volunteers that arrived last September. In this way, it seems that a balance has been struck between the intangible and tangible parts of our service.

Finding balance 😉

Finally the struggle lately has been a struggle with accepting and understanding ‘the slumps.’ There are so many ups and downs during Peace Corps service that they even give us a pretty darn accurate flow chart, depicting which months we will feel high periods, low periods, and plateaus. In fact, I’ve posted a picture of that chart here before…I feel that the Cycle of Vulnerability and Adjustment pretty much gets me. It seems like nonsense, because there are always ups and downs in life, whether or not you’re a Peace Corps Volunteer. I can say with certainty that because of how foreign daily life can feel in a foreign country, the ups and downs during service are extreme and visceral and always teach you a kind of hard lesson. Whether it’s ups and downs of motivation level, actual busy-ness, health, homesickness, sense of accomplishment, or various other factors, sometimes this rollercoaster feels never ending.

While the valleys don’t feel nearly as deep this year as they did last year, it can still be a challenge to accept a slump when it comes. A few weeks ago, after a week-long break from school, I felt a major slump in motivation setting in. The feeling of not really wanting to do any of the things that I had to do, of not having any new ideas or any energy for work was certainly reminiscent of times last year, which usually ended up being pretty big slumps and pretty deep valleys that were emotionally tedious to climb out of. Fearing the slump, I found myself resisting my lack of motivation, pushing myself to try and plan things, think of new ideas, keep going when I had no energy to keep going. For me, managing a slump can be tricky business. For me personally, taking whole days off or out of my normal routine makes the slump worse, even though that’s usually what I want to do instinctually. Getting out of my routine here just makes the slump that much worse, the valley that much harder to climb out of as I try to restore my basic routine along with any motivation that goes beyond that bare minimum routine. Knowing that about myself, the struggle is to find a balance between the helpful and important ‘keep on keepin on’ mindset and giving myself permission to do less, to not force new ideas or plans or energy when I feel a little ‘low,’ and to trust that it will all come back around, naturally, in time. It is fear of losing my momentum here that makes me want to instinctually push back and ignore a feeling of low energy or low motivation. Seeing life as being linear, it is easy for me to make assumptive connections that a lack of motivation now means a loss of momentum down the line. However, having been through a number of slumps during Peace Corps service, I am slowly starting to believe that life is cyclical, not linear. I never quite trusted it last year, but I can usually convince myself now that all things come back around, cycle back through. It helps me to think of my own internal environment as being like the seasons. I have Spring times, when I am bursting with fresh ideas and energy. I have Summer times when all those ideas and energy come to fruition, I have Autumn times when I can reflect on what’s happened and start to slow down. And I have Winter times, when things lie dormant and rest. Thinking this way makes a “slump” feel more like a  natural and crucial time of rest, and a perfectly normal part of the cycle. It helps me know what I need to do for myself, depending on which ‘season’ I am in. It forces me to be patient and observant and accepting. And it gives me a change of pace to look forward to, eventually.

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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.

The Heart of A Mozambican

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I am struck by an image, a simple thing: 2 oranges in a bowl.

“Servido,” Laila says to me. ‘Help yourself.’

We have been sitting together for more than an hour on a straw mat on the floor of her newly rented room. We talk about her 10th grade studies, her little sister, her new boyfriend, her twin siblings. We talk about my 8th grade students, my nieces and nephews, my sisters.

There is a lot left unsaid.

“Gosta de beber vinho?” I ask, pointing to a half-empty bottle of wine in the corner. ‘Do you like to drink wine?’

Only some days, when my head is really full, she tells me. I think a lot, she says, calmly.

I feel squeamish, instinctually, about a 10th grader drinking. But Laila is 20, past the legal drinking age, and long ago an adult in every sense of the word.

She asks if I drink. Just once in a while, I tell her.

A neighbor stops by and peeks into the room.

Já dividiu o quarto. É bonito como assim,” she says with approval. ‘You already divided the room. It’s beautiful like this.’

Laila has strung a rope from post to post across the middle of the room and draped two kapulanas over it as a divider. On one side there is a twin matress on the floor, the bed neatly made and the blue mosquito net tucked in tight around the bottom. We sit on the other side, slightly wider. Here is the straw esteira mat that is a staple of the Mozambican household; the esteiras are often laid down outside in the shade and here people will relax together, nap in the heat of the day, shell peanuts, do homework, braid hair. Propped against one wall of Laila’s room are her school notebooks and the notebooks of her younger sister, who lives with her. Her hair pieces and cosmetics are lined up between the notebooks. In one corner are her three plastic kitchen shelves, some food, and a couple pots and dishes. Along the wall are her jugs for hauling water and her larger basin of water. I feel a breeze come through the caniço grass walls of the room, and feel the soft evening sun rays come through the door. People pass by and greet us. A pan clatters to the floor in the room next door and Laila says something in the local language to the neighbor. A colleague from her class comes in and sits down for a couple of minutes, talking about Physics homework.Laila’s collection of brightly-colored, freshly-washed plastic sandals dry outside the door; A number of neighbors have left her smiling since I arrived with comments about her beautiful shoes.

In the extended moments of silence that are the norm in any conversation here, I sneak glances at her face. What I see there feels familiar now: a thoughtful calm. If she is stressed, it doesn’t show. For the longest time, I mistook this absence of apparent stress in Mozambicans for the absence of stress. ‘Mozambicans are so resilient, they never seem to worry,’ I used to think. I am embarrassed to admit that now; all people worry. My gaze moves to her hands, a knife in one and a kakana plant seed in the other. They too are calm in their task of dissecting the seed. Seeing her there, so grounded and almost stoic, I begin to uncoil slowly. It is comfortable here, and my own mind is more settled than it has been in days. The feeling that visiting her felt like an obligation after a full week of work seems ridiculous now, and I feel guilty for it.

Laila is a former student and good friend of our first sitemate, Sarah, and I said I would continue to check in with her this year. She is a hard worker and a good student. She supports herself and her little sister with minimal help from family; This situation is not uncommon here. These students struggle, undoubtedly. In their communal culture they are supported by friends, neighbors, teachers, each other. Many of those that support them have been in this situation themselves.

The day before this visit, Laila had texted me asking me for help buying food. I do not come from a communal culture; requests such as this make me feel at once responsible,unsure, and guilty. I did not reply that day and by the time I arrived the next day, someone had brought her the vegetables for dinner, a coconut, some rice, and the two oranges that she then, without hesitation, insisted on sharing with me.

I apologized for not replying to her message. I couldn’t tell her it was because I wanted to help but just didn’t know what to do, that I didn’t feel I could just buy her food, that I feared giving to her meant that I would inevitably be asked to give to an unpredictable number of others in similar situations. I couldn’t say that it was because I have never in my life known people that run out of food, and that I don’t have an instinct for this situation. They all seem lame excuses now for not responding. But I couldn’t tell her that either.

All I could say was, “Desculpe.” Sorry.

In the peels of the two oranges that lay between us now, in her tidy and calm and comfortable room, after two hours of conversation, I see the things that I consider to be the heart of Mozambicans: an unending and unquestioned generosity, pride in what they have, and a priority on the people around them. These are the things that all at the same time make me feel welcomed and starkly foreign, guilty and grateful, naive and a smidge wiser. These are the things I ache for within myself, the things I aspire to in this life.

I rise to leave and Laila insists on accompanying me outside, three short steps to the front door. In the fading sunlight she gathers her shoes, and I promise to come over again soon.

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 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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Sunday Snapshot: Halfway

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A quickly passing year full of slow days has just left us. By Peace Corps standards we have just passed the halfway point in our service, although with training included we are nearly two thirds finished with our service. 

We spent the last week in Maputo, enjoying city life and our Moz 25 Peace Corps cohort at our mid-service conference.

Parabéns todos!

Sunday Snapshot: Life is Good on the Indian Ocean

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The Indian Ocean was at peace this morning, turquoise and flat and calling my name. We hurried from our friend’s house with her two stand-up paddleboards, before any wind picked up over the water. We paddled with the beach to one side and the Bazaruto Archipelago to the other, watching a couple happy kids swimming, a group of women gathered together, men working on their boats.

We jumped in for a swim ourselves a couple of times and stopped to drift in the current some on the way back. As we look ahead to the coming year, we know we can always find peace and contentment in these waters.

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Travel Teaser: Bazaruto, Lesotho, Cape Town, and Vic Falls

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There are moments when I remember that I never wanted to visit the African continent. What a strange thing it is now, to write these words from a part of the world I’ve come to love so much. It’s been nearly 7 years since my first trip to Kenya, and it boggles my mind now to think how lucky we’ve been over these years to visit 8 African countries, live in 1, and experience the beautiful people and places along the way. On our most recent wander, we climbed the dune on Bazaruto Island, took in the crisp mountain air of Lesotho, ate our way through Cape Town, and found ourselves in awe of both the grand Victoria Falls and an exceptional secondary school student in Zambia.

Here’s a sneak peak of what we’ve been up to.

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We started our school summer vacation at the lovely beaches in Mozambique, and then bounced around from there, realizing that we were spending every Thursday for 4 weeks in a row in a different country!

Thursday, December 8 we visited Bazaruto Island in the Bazaruto Archipelago for the first time. This stunning archipelago is visible from the beach of Vilanculos, our home away from home in Mozambique. We visited the smaller island of Magaruge in this same archipelago with my parents in August. We visited Bazaruto with my friend Sinead from the States and her little sister and 2 friends. Standing on top of the dune on the island and looking out at the Indian Ocean, I couldn’t help but feel lucky to have lived here for the last 15 months. The feeling was reminiscent of how I always felt at our home in Fraser, Colorado when I looked out at the mountains all around us. The feeling on Bazaruto just came with a lot more sand, sweat, and saltwater!p1280958

By the next Thursday, December 15, Alex and I were pony trekking in the hills of Lesotho. As the months pass in Mozambique, we always find ourselves aching a bit for elevation change and cool weather. The rolling hills and crisp mountain air of Lesotho satisfied our cravings, as we spent a few days exploring the hills and waterfalls.

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On the third Thursday, December 22, we made our way to Cape Point. This was right in the middle of 10 days in Cape Town, where we had plans to eat, drink, and be merry over the Christmas holiday. I’d say we accomplished all of these goals, seeking out fajitas and sushi and wine and beer and margaritas-among other things- and even managing to do some activities in between the feasting, like climbing Table Mountain, picnicking (aka day-drinking wine) on the grassy knolls of Kirstenbosch Gardens, and watching the penguins at Boulder Bay.

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The final Thursday of our trip, December 29, found us in Livingstone, Zambia. With 3 more friends that were visiting from the U.S., we got up early this day to go see Victoria Falls. We spent a few hours wandering the paths, in awe of the falls,   and taking loads of silly pictures, as we had the whole park to ourselves for the early hours of the day. Over our 4 days here we visited the falls on the Zimbabwe side, spent hours chatting with our new friend Bwalya, completed a Secret Santa shop and gift exchange in a local market, and spent New Year’s Eve dancing the night away in a proper African ‘discoteca,’ Rihanna, fireworks, and attempted pickpocketing included.

Happy New Years from Happily Lost, and THANK YOU for visiting the blog. I logged on to write this post today and saw my stats from 2016: 6,379 views from 3,489 visitors in 85  countries. Thanks Readers, for getting happily lost with me!

More details on these travels coming soon!

Sunday Snapshots: School’s Out

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I remember the first day of school in February, standing in front of my classes to sing the Mozambican National Anthem with butterflies in my stomach.

‘Those lines are really long,’ I remember thinking, looking out at my stretching lines of 8th graders, 50 or more to each class. I was scared; I had never worked with kids of this age, and certainly never in groups this big.

Now, I know all of their names, most of their personalities, and, for a few, I know about their families, their opinions, and their aspirations. I can recognize their voices when they call from the gate of our neighborhood. A number of them, we have seen six or seven days a week all year.

These students have challenged me and frustrated me. They have been 8th graders: crazy and loud and emotional and just plain mean. They have done strange things: plucking my blond hair from my head, grabbing my hand to examine my white skin, smelling my hair, and telling me I have beautiful legs.

For all these odd and angering moments, I am grateful to them. I have a long ways to go, but I am at least a bit stronger and tougher now. I have been challenged to find ways to manage a large classroom with limited resources and to encourage their confidence. I am more aware of where I need improvements as a teacher and of where my strengths are.

I am grateful too, for all the good things. These students have educated me: I understand a Mozambican classroom a bit more and I understand some of the problems these kids bring to school with them.

And they have surprised me , too, a few of them, with their eagerness to learn and to help, their curiosity, their silly nature, and their occasional appreciation.

So, I say goodbye to my first-ever classes as a teacher.

Até a proxima.

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