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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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Sunday Snapshot: Marcia’s House

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Yesterday we finally made it to the home of Marcia, one our best friends here in Mapinhane. Despite Marcia being one of the most important people to our service, we had not yet visited her home since arriving here in December 2015. Marcia is one busy lady: she works at a shop 6 days a week, goes to church 3 or 4 nights a week, and on Sundays until 2. Finding a chunk of time to go visit her at home was one of our top priorities for this home stretch of Peace Corps service.

We wandered around her property, looking a her small garden and all of her fruit-bearing trees, picking some lemons and moringa to take home. We helped her cook Matapa, one of our favorite dishes and the one she had been promising us for months. And we spent a lot of time chit-chatting.

Marcia was one of the first people we met in Mapinhane, and has been a pillar of support ever since.

When it was so hot that my brain was boiling in my head in the first few months of service, Marcia was the one that humorously recognized the struggle. “Go home Cecelia. I can see you can’t speak Portuguese right now. You’re too hot.”

When we started teaching Marcia English, she cracked us up when she shared one of her reasons for wanting to learn: “So if someone bad is following me in America, I can tell them, ‘I will kill you!'” she explained with her fists in front of her scrunched-up face.We chuckled, slightly uncomfortable, at the image in our minds.

When I came to her toward the end of last year, exasperated about my wild 8th graders and their constant criticism of my ‘disorganized hair,’ she gave me sage advice: “You just tell them ‘Estou bem como estou’ (I am fine how I am). Now, instead of worrying about my hair, you worry about your future!”

When I gave her perhaps the 15th little sampling of a food I had cooked, she nodded her head and told us, “Yeah, Cecelia is the best in the kitchen,” sprinkling in ‘the best’ in English in the otherwise Portuguese sentence.

And it’s not uncommon for her to laugh and tell us she’s been practicing her ‘ginasticos’ so she can fit in our suitcase and come home with us to nanny our future children.

After our lunch had turned into dinner, she walked us back to the main road, 5 and a half hours after we had met her there. I said goodbye with the customary kiss on each cheek, her telling us ‘see you tomorrow’ in English, and us telling her the same in Shitswa.

“Até manziku mana Marcia.”

Like the Sunday Snapshots? Follow happilylostwithcece on Instagram to catch more Moz snapshots. 

Smiles and Struggles: The Home Stretch, Looking Back, and Looking Forward

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I began this post in the traditional format, as another edition of 3 Smiles and A Struggle. Within a couple of minutes of starting to write, I realized that something about it felt a little off this time around.

We are starting to get the question now: “How do you feel about your Peace Corps service ending?”

This question can best be addressed by realizing that at this point, there are a lot of smiles and struggles that are flip-flopping between being one or the other, depending on the day-let’s get real…the moment. Most of the big-picture smiles and struggles right now – of which there are quite a few- can be broken down into three general temporal categories: past, present, and future. Easy right?

Let’s talk about the present first:

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We are in home stretch of Peace Corps service.

Along with just regular, everyday stuff, I am currently wearing the following ‘professional’ hats, the same ones I have been wearing all year and some all of last year : 8th grade English Teacher, ‘Homeroom’ Teacher to one class of 8th graders, Adult English Club co-facilitator, Primary School library co-facilitator, REDES girls group co-facilitator, English tutor, potential 9th grade English teacher for the next couple months…

I smile right now because:

  • I realize how much I love having a varied work schedule.
  • I am doing what I came here to do and I feel like my efforts, energy, and frustrations have been worth it.
  • Time spent in this variety of settings is time spent with a huge variety of people that have been the most important part of my time in Moz.
  • Being busy pulls me into the present, forces me to focus on now, and doesn’t allow too much time for mulling over what’s coming.
  • I am documenting this important time in life.
  • I share this all with my lovely husband.
  • I am daydreaming about upcoming adventures.

I struggle because:

  • All of those hats come off on November 24, the day classes end and we leave Mapinhane.
  • The fact that all the hats will soon come off means spending a great deal of time and energy right now tying up loose ends and finding a way to feel satisfied with how I leave things.
  • This chunk of time serves as a slow and final goodbye to the work and people that have been my day-to-day for 2 years.
  • So much is happening that I hardly have a moment to even realize what is happening, or pause and actively take it in.
  • I am struggling to articulate things.
  • I worry not only about myself, but equally about my lovely husband during this transition.
  • This is the final phase of this particular rich and adventurous time in life.

Part of this home stretch period of service also brings a natural tendency to start looking back, noticing slowly what has happened in these two years, and reflecting.

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I am sure that all PCV’s (Peace Corps Volunteers) and RPCV’s (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) would agree: making it through these 27 months is a big personal accomplishment that probably did not come easily, as well as an extremely meaningful personal experience. As we begin the process of closing our service, I can begin to reflect a bit on some of the general, and universal, smiles and struggles of Peace Corps service.

By the time Peace Corps service ends, a PCV can smile because they have:

  • Lived within a culture that is not their own and, therefore, can never be fully understood by said PCV, as culture is the thing ingrained in us since birth and dictates…..99% of what happens in a place, in my opinion, whether obvious or hidden, big or small.
  •  Learned a new language, and learned to express themselves in that language, work in that language, yell angrily in that language, joke in that language. And maybe even learned to love that language a little bit.
  • Done solid work in an environment flush with foreign norms, behaviors, thoughts, actions, languages, processes, and expectations.
  • Become familiar with the shadowy parts of their own internal environment.
  • Become familiar with which personal tendencies, habits, worries, etc. are a product of cultural context (common example: ‘I used to constantly feel guilty about the food I ate when I lived in the States. Here, I never feel that way.’) and which things are traits that stick no matter the cultural context, and are therefore the fabric of someone’s true self, and not a product of their context or surroundings.
  • Been deeply affected by their country of service.
  • And, more satisfying than all of the above, formed relationships that are the glue that holds this whole experience together.

The struggle is that by the time a PCV is at this point in service they might be realizing that:

  • That foreign culture, while still not fully understood like their own, has become familiar, comfortable, and normal in all its idiosyncracies.
  • They may not have many opportunities to speak that foreign language at home. They put a lot of time and effort into learning it and speaking it works their brains in a nice way. Hearing, usually, more than one foreign language being spoken around them at any moment gives their surroundings a rich texture. And, NOT understanding everything that’s being said at all moments has become familiar and freeing. For this, the foreign language (s) will be missed.
  • All their solid work could potentially a) turn to dust b) be the only opportunity they ever have to do this type of work c) yield many benefits that said PCV may never see or enjoy.
  • They have to find a way to turn the intangible, meaningful aspects of their service into an answer to the question, “How was it?”
  • They will most likely never again see most of the people that they have formed strong relationships with.

Alright, we’ve covered what’s happening now. We’ve talked very generally and objectively of what’s happened these past two years. So, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that a big part of this home stretch includes looking forward, figuring out next steps, containing excitement for what’s to come, and anticipating how this impending change might feel.

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When I look forward, I smile when I see:

  • My family
  • Travel and outdoor adventures
  • New work opportunites
  • My own transportation
  • A clean, private bathroom. A clean, private bathroom. A clean, private bathroom.
  • Food
  • Running water
  • Snow
  • Libraries
  • Anonymity and privacy
  • Not being asked for things every day: the eggs I just bought, the skirt I am wearing, the money in my wallet

I’ll stop there and tell you that recently, instead of counting sheep to fall asleep, I count Things That I Am Excited About In America.

That being said, when I look forward, I struggle when I see:

  • How disconnected we have become from the day to day lives of our families- and vice versa- and how many big things have changed at home.
  • How disconnected we have become from our home culture.
  • How nonsensical certain things in our country seem to have become.
  • The ugly sides of an individualistic culture: the part that says having doesn’t mean giving, and the loneliness that can come with relative anonymity.
  • The high level of expectations as to what should be accomplished daily in our home country.
  • Visions of the cereal aisle at the grocery store.
  • Temperature readings below 60  degrees Farenheit.

My struggles when looking forward are informed by close friends that are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. The biggest struggle in looking forward comes from knowing that it is expected that you should feel normal in your home culture when you return because you grew up in it, but it won’t feel normal for a bit because of the new lens through which you are looking at it.

All new experiences- big or small- change a human’s overall perspective, or lens, through which they look at the world; my mom recently told me that since moving into a house that uses well water it drives her nuts when people waste water by leaving it running.

What Peace Corps feels like is two years of continually, metaphorically moving to a house that uses well water. [Read: life change/new experience].

What I predict as the biggest struggle of coming home is that it will feel like the water is always left running. [Read: uncomfortable re-adaptation after realizing that life change/new experience has caused perspective shift toward previously accepted behavior or norm].

Whether we are looking at the past, the present, or the future, there are guaranteed to be plenty of smiles and struggles, as always.

So, how do I feel about Peace Corps service ending?

I feel too rushed, and also impatient. I feel anxious, and excited. I feel nervous, and ready. I feel unfinished, and accomplished. I feel energized, and worn out. I feel vulnerable, and strong.

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100 Days of Moz

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Well, I don’t think I quite believe it myself, but today marks the beginning of our last 100 days as Peace Corps Volunteers in Mozambique. The time is so short, but still there is a lot to be done, and more than that even, just a lot to be soaked up.

In the next 100 days we will complete our third trimester at school, and participate in some fun, festive holidays, like culture week and teacher’s day. I will move into the health-centered curriculum with my REDES girls group, and wrap up our year together with an end of year celebration, as well as prepare my lovely counterpart Marizia to run a group on her own wherever she goes after graduation at the end of this year. I have a few loose ends at the library- finishing a policy and procedures manual, leveling new books. And we’ll keep on enjoying our favorite piece of work each week: Wednesday evening Adult English Club.

More than all these tasks to be completed, though, we are focusing on spending time with the people in our community that we have come to love so much, whether that means visiting their families, having them over for dinner, taking a bit more time than usual to chit chat, or including them all in our eventual going-away party.

I expect the next 100 days to be a bit of a blur, really. Especially considering that I am sitting here wondering where the last two years of Peace Corps have gone. So, I am committing to documenting these next 100 days with images, to give you snapshots into our day-to-day lives before they change drastically, and to give ourselves something solid to look back on after it flies by.

You can find this photo series on my newly-created Instagram: happilylostwithcece, under #100daysofmoz.  And you can look for a bit more story to accompany the images that fall on Sundays, as I will post them in my Sunday Snapshot post here on the blog as well.

Looking forward to sharing these final 100 days with you!

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Sunday Snapshots: Happy Birthday Alex

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Today was a day to celebrate my lovely husband, Alex, or, as he is often known here in Moz, Alexi. Today Alex turned 28, and we spent the day in Vilanculos to celebrate

The day started with a super delicious brunch.

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Followed soon after by a cocktail, enjoyed in a similar fashion to last year’s birthday beer that was thrown out the window of a moving car, by some new friends we had made in Malolotja Nature Reserve in Swaziland.

We then set out for a fatbike ride down the beach, to some red dunes in a sleepy bay north of the main hub of Vilanculos.

Of course, we made some new crianca (child) friends along the way, as is the norm nearly anywhere you go in Moz. We were quite thankful to have them later, as we searched for a path to the road at the top of the dunes.

 

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Happy Birthday Alex! Cheers to another year of adventuring behind us and many more ahead.

Sunday Snapshot: Home Sweet Sweet Potato

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It’s always nice to go away, and it’s always nice to come home, especially when the garden is growin’. After getting home from our recent travels in South Africa, Alex and I began our first sweet potato harvest. We dug and dug, following long, reaching roots to their ends, where we found some sweet potatoes as small as cherry tomatoes and others as big as grapefruits.

Photo Cred to Alex.

South Africa: Driving Cape Town to Durban

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After spending a few days in Cape Town enjoying the V & A Waterfront Food Market and an extremely informative and interesting tour of Robben Island, we set out for our 10 day drive from Cape Town to Durban.

Day 1:

Cape Town City Center > Gansbaai, Western Cape: 162 kilometers

 Alex and I and his uncle Dempsey woke up early for a quick hike up Lion’s Head Mountain. We weren’t the only ones with the idea of hiking the mountain early to enjoy the 360 degree views of the Cape Town sunrise. Even with the Indiana-ana Jones (Indiana’s female counterpart, as I am a female) ladders and chains bolted into the rocks to assist during the steep sections of the hike, we made it to the top in about 45 minutes.

After the hike, three of our group of six headed out to sort out rental cars and the other three of us went on a short jaunt to the Bo Kaap neighborhood in Cape Town to stroll the streets between the cheery, bright houses and to search out the Rose Corner Cafe, for some coconut donuts that I had read about.

Then, it was time to begin our road trip from Cape Town to Durban. Once we reached Gansbaai, we stayed just a little outside of town at White Shark Backpackers, a beachfront house-turned-hostel in a quiet neighborhood. Gansbaai is a hotspot for cage diving with Great Whites, which was why it was a stop along our route. However, within about 5 minutes of arriving, Alex and Dempsey’s hopes of cage diving were quickly dashed: the boats weren’t running for the next 5 days because the seas were too rough.

The news stung, and they wrestled to come to terms with missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime, only-in-SA activity.

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Pounding waves at sunrise in Gansbaai.

Day 2:

Gansbaai > Cape Agulhas > Mossel Bay: 364 kilometers

Today was to be a very happy day for me! I had been utterly disappointed and real peeved back in December when we arrived at Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope and I found out that it wasn’t, in fact, the southernmost point in Africa, but the southwestern most point…Alex swears that I was actually more upset that this wasn’t the true meeting place of the two oceans, as all their signs claim.

“Guh! What?? Who cares about this place!!?” I balked, as Alex laughed at the fact that I didn’t know this.

It was only then that I found out the true southernmost point is Cape Agulhas, a sleepy (at least in winter) little place hundreds of kilometers away, and completely out of our reach on that December trip. I had come to terms with the fact that I would most likely never stand on the southernmost tip of Africa, but on Day 2 of our road trip, I got a second chance.

After an unbeatable fish ‘n chips lunch in the town of L’Agulhas, we headed to the point for some peace of mind and windy pics.

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In the early afternoon, we went on to Mossel Bay, about 270 km, or 3 hours away, and arrived at Park House Lodge in the early evening. As is common in South Africa, we’ve found, Park House was another house-turned-hostel, an old stone house with a maze of rooms, a shaded lawn and garden, and a top-notch area to braai (the South African name for a good ‘ole BBQ).

Unexpectedly, Alex and Dempsey’s once-in-a-lifetime, only-in-SA opportunity was waiting for them in Mossel Bay. It was quickly decided that the two of them, and Alex’s mom Susan would spend the next day cage diving with Great Whites.

Day 3:

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I made sure to get an early morning smooch from Alex, just in case his face looked as good to a Great White as it does to me. Then, the three cage divers set off for the boat launch, a gray sky threatening rain above them.

I rose slowly, found an empty dorm room to do yoga in, ate, and drank coffee, making for a lovely and relaxed morning for me. Once Alex’s aunt Alma, and her mom Lilia got up and ready, the three of us headed out in search of Kingfisher, a recommended restaurant for someone seeking seafood. We walked through some blowing, light rain, and arrived at the restaurant, right on the point, overlooking the ocean. After some yummy fish and calamari, we walked along the ocean, then made our way back to Park House, stopping in the indoor flea market/craft market on the way.

Meanwhile, the other three of our six were getting up close and personal with the Great Whites, an experience that did not disappoint.

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You may be asking-as my own mama did- why I didn’t get up close and personal with Great Whites. The answer: I didn’t want to. One avid diver I met said she skipped out on this activity because she doesn’t agree with the baiting of the sharks and the subsequent relationships that the sharks form between humans and that free fish the humans tempt them with. But my reason isn’t so well-thought out. I can’t tell you why really, but I can tell you that I didn’t have much interest in cage diving from the start, and the unrelenting cold and wind on our trip up to this point just pushed me further from wanting to get in the water.

I can also tell you that the three that went were bursting with excitement about the experience. Since I wasn’t there, let’s hear from them about what they thought of it:

Alex: “It’s neat….I don’t know.”

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Dempsey: “‘It’s neat…I don’t know?’.!!??…Let me think about it for a minute. Can I say something as corny as: glad I’m not a seal?”

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Susan: “The one and only time I liked being in a cage.”

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So, there you have it folks: the riveting and descriptive words of the cage divers.

Maybe I’m remembering wrong, but I’m pretty sure they were talking a lot more about how spectacular, crazy, really cool, and just incredible it was day-of.

Oh, and to get the other side of the story on baiting, they mentioned that their guide said they don’t bait new sharks into the bay-the sharks they see are the same sharks they always see- and that the very small number of shark attacks in the area proves that the baiting does not cause sharks to show any extra interest in humans.

So, it’s up to you to decide: how do you feel about baiting Great Whites for cage diving?

Our day in Mossel Bay wrapped up over an amazing braai that we cooked up for ourselves, enjoying the steak, potatoes, and veggies almost as much as the conversation with a few locals that were hanging out at the hostel, gathering around the braai coals to stay warm and cook up their dinner.

Day 4:

Mossel Bay > Plettenberg Bay/Crags: 144 kilometers

With the whole group happy and satisfied with our time in Mossel Bay, we headed off with the intention of staying the night in a town called Kynsna. Earlier on in their two-month trip around Southern Africa, Alex’s fam had met a South African girl that is currently living in Knysna. So, they had made arrangements to meet up with her for a meal. After eating lunch among the sailboats at the cozy Knysna waterfront, Alex’s mom, Susan, found out that their friend had had to travel to Johannesburg and would not be able to meet up with us. As it was still early afternoon, we decided to keep on keepin’ on, and ended up at an off-the-beaten-path hostel in Crags, outside of Plettenberg Bay.

This woodsy little hostel was full to the brim with people of its namesake: Wild Spirit. It was wild spirits indeed that filled all the space here around the fire rings and drum circles, between the wooden painted hearts and quotes about an inspired life, and up in the Sunset Tree of Love  tree house.

Here we found that eclectic mix of travelers that can be at once interesting and overwhelming, inspiring and a just a bit obnoxious: the nomadic Florida-native with dreads down her back who talked nonstop about all the places she’s been, the two Americans trying for Cape to Cairo on motorbikes, the host of South African youth volunteers that more or less run the place, and the man that smilingly balked at me for eating “government” (bought from a supermarket) bread.

Soon enough, we parted with that evil government bread, making multiple trips to the nearby Nature Valley Farm Stall. The farm stalls dotting this part of SA were reminiscent of Vermont: small country farms and vendors selling wholesome, homemade goods that have nothing to do with “big brother.”

Jokes aside though, I do like a homemade bread and used to make my own back in America to avoid all those nasty chemicals that we find in that gov bread. So it was that the farm stall was probably my favorite part of our couple days in this area. Over our two days here, we enjoyed fresh breads, granola bars, baked goods, quiches, meat pies, veggie pies, raw veggies, wine, and one contested apricot fruit roll, the only farm stall item that was not unanimously agreed upon as ‘good’ by our group of six.

Day 5

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Mid-morning on our full day in the Crags area, five of our six loaded into the hostel’s free ‘hiking shuttle.’ The shuttle was a small commuter car- three of us in the back and Alma on Dempsey’s lap up front- driven by one of the volunteers, who took us to the general area of the Kalanderkloof trailhead in TsiTsikamma National Park. The beginning of the hike awarded us with views of the lagoon and ocean below, which would make up another section of the hike. After about 30 minutes of walking, we began to descend into a damp rain forest, leaving behind our first kisses of sun in about a week. At the bottom of our descent, we discovered some massive trees- one or two to rival the Redwoods, winter-dried ferns, funky fungi, and, perhaps one of my favorite things of nature: crispy, crunchy leaves on the forest floor. After scuffling through what seemed to be a dry creek bed, the trail popped out on the R102 road. As were the instructions, we turned right and followed the road for about 10 minutes, and then turned into a lagoon-side recreation area and walked along the lagoon until we reached the beach. Finding ourselves once again in the warm sun, Susan and I quickly stowed our long sleeved shirts in our packs, excited to see the sun again. Within 2 minutes, the long sleeves went back on, after turning the corner into a fierce sea “breeze.” Even through the wind, the almost-deserted beach was a pleasant place to walk for about 30 minutes. From the beach, we cut up to the Nature’s Valley Restaurant and Pub, where we enjoyed a picnic lunch of hard-boiled eggs, cheese, and non-government bread at a table beside a tree whose branches dangled with the dirty and duct-taped footwear of those who had ended their 45 kilometer hike of the Otter Trail. After lunch, we opted to skip the steep uphill hike back to the trailhead and instead called the shuttle for a pickup, and headed promptly to the magical farm stall upon our return.

Day 6

Crags/Plettenberg Bay > Chintsa: 551 kilometers

After our final visit to the beloved farm stall for snacks and lunch goodies, we set off for a long day of driving. Through rolling hills, and on good roads, it was smooth sailing, despite the long-kilometerage (is that an equivalent to mileage??)

Aware that we were getting a bit short on time at this point, and wanting to linger a bit on the Wild Coast, we bypassed a number of seemingly worthwhile stops on this section of our drive. If you have a bit more time to linger, this stretch of coast line certainly seems to have a lot to offer, from the surf spots of Jeffrey’s Bay, to the adventure sports and history of Port Elizabeth, and the 600+ ‘ellies’ of Addo Elephant National Park.

Quite honestly, what I remember most about this day is the delicious pumpkin and chickpea pie that I ate for lunch in the car.

The rest is history, right?

Day 7

Chintsa: 0 kilometers

On our only full day in Chintsa, Alex and I left the campsites- shaded in the morning by big hills- and went seeking the sun. We skirted the edge of a lagoon, and were on the beach within minutes. We spent a bit of time poking around some nearby tide pools, surprised at how warm the water was. After following a path up one of the bluffs, heading slowly away from the campsites we thought it would head towards, we backtracked and bushwhacked until we popped out among the trees of our campsites, satisfied with our mini-adventure.

Our accommodation at Chintsa was my favorite of all the places we stayed on this drive. We stayed at Bucaneer’s, a clean and quiet hostel that hardly felt like a hostel at all. The heart of the hostel is at the top of a hill, with amazing views of the sea from the reception area, bar, and backpacker’s kitchen. All is tidy, warmly but minimally decorated, and flooded with natural light. This hilltop backpacker’s kitchen was as clean as any air bnb we could have found. The deck was the perfect place to soak up morning sun, and the indoor comfy seating was a welcome reprieve from the chilling evening winds that we had been out in since the trip started. From this central part of Bucaneer’s, dorms, private rooms, and lush plant life line the sides of a road leading downhill. At the bottom of the hill there is access to the lagoon-where you can use the canoes for free- and beach, as well as a pool and pool bar, sand volleyball court, and large camping area with it’s own kitchen facilities.

Alex and I enjoyed a bit of time paddling around the lagoon, and later fought the wind on an afternoon walk down the beach. Even with just one day here Chintsa felt like a place of rejuvination, and it’s an area that I wish we could have spent a couple more days in, exploring the little town of East Chintsa and going for yoga and/or breakfast at a nearby spot, whose name-Tea in the Trees- piqued my interest.

But, with a couple days and a considerable amount of kilometerage left to cover, we said our goodbyes to charming Chintsa.

 

Day 8

Chintsa > Port Shepstone: 515 kilometers

Everything about this day, this overly-ambitious, mostly unenjoyable day, is a bit of a blur. At the end of this 500+-kilometer, two-lane, under-construction, goats-in-the-road stress marathon, there was only one logical thing to be said, to our driver: Alex, how many beers do you need?

While he enjoyed his, I savored mine in what may be the best shower I have set foot in since 2015, fully equipped with a perfectly placed shower-beer shelf.

So, at least there was that.

Day 9

Port Shepstone > Durban: 122 kilometers

In comparison to the day before, the road to Durban felt ‘paved with gold.’ We sailed into the city without a hitch, and proceeded to hunker down in our modern, comfortable air bnb, perhaps still feeling a bit shell-shocked from the day before, and just generally in need of some rest after our long journey.

Day 10

Durban: 0 kilometers

After a large and satisfying breakfast, we happily said goodbye to our rental car, which was preceded by an intense hour searching out the downtown return location in what felt like an endless maze of one-way streets and ‘robots’-South African stoplights-and then spent the rest of the day taking in the sunny city, wandering around, enjoying some beer and a smoked salmon salad (say what?!?), and wrapping up our 10 day journey with a perfect sampling of Durban’s famous curries.

Well-fed, well-drank, well-traveled, and in good company, we prepared ourselves for the long road back to Moz.

Further logistics of driving Cape Town to Durban:

I  recommend: 

  • Picking up a FREE copy of the Coast to Coast backpackers guide book. You can find it at most hostels, and it is a good little guide to lodging and overview of activities in, mostly, SA, as well as some in Moz, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, and Namibia.
  • Taking more than 9 days to drive Cape Town to Durban. While the distance is definitely do-able in this amount of time, and it provided some time for exploring, there were definitely places that I wish we could have lingered longer, especially after the 500 km days of driving. This area of SA has A TON to offer, so don’t rush if you don’t have to!
  • Traveling in low season (May-October) if you like to keep it chill. This has a double meaning. First, it was quite cold. Second, the hostels were very relaxed and quiet. The former was a slight struggle for us.The latter was lovely.

Getting Around:

As you know, we rented cars for this drive. Having our own car made this journey considerably easier than it would have been if we had been relying on public transportation, as we usually do when traveling. On this trip and past trips to South Africa, we have noticed that the country is NOT very well set-up for a backpacker or traveler who is getting around on public buses. Many hostels are in neighborhoods, off of the main roads, where mini-buses and the like just don’t go. Long(ish) distance taxis are not well within a backpacker’s budget, and while sometimes hostels seem to take pity on stranded public transpo backpackers and go retrieve them from the nearest main road, it is more likely that these car-less travelers will be walking….a lot. This being said, there exists another lovely option for travelers without private transpo: The Baz Bus. The Baz Bus is a hop-on-hop-off bus that will, indeed, take you to the out-of-the-way hostels that SA seems to favor.

Where we stayed:

  • Cape Town: Air Bnb
  • Gansbaai: White Shark Backpackers, 200 Rand per person/per night, private double rooms; kitchen;washing machine;TV; wifi; out of town in a neighborhood; groceries aprox. 10 km in town
  • Mossel Bay: Park House Lodge, 100 Rand pp/pn for dorms **low season/generous reception dude special; kitchen; braai area with free wood; free coffee and tea; wifi; centrally located in town; Spar grocery store aprox. 5km away
  • Crags/Plettenberg Bay: Wild Spirit Lodge, 120 pp/pn for camping; dorms; kitchen; free coffee and tea; breakfast menu; dinner upon request; fire pits; instruments; trails and treehouses; wifi; FARM STALL aprox. 2km away, but if you want that gov’t bread you better get it in Plettenberg Bay
  • Chintsa: Bucaneer’s, 120 pp/pn for camping; dorms; private rooms; kitchen; restaurant; bar; beach access; free canoe use; free wine and 4 o’clock activities in summer; pool; wifi near reception; curios shop; off of main road; Spar grocery store 16 km away
  • Port Shepstone: The Spot, 120 pp/pn for camping; dorms; private rooms; kitchen; bar; wifi; beach access; off of main road; Kwik Spar grocery store aprox. 5 km away
  • Durban: Air BnB

Photo credits go to Alex and Dempsey.

 

 

 

Sunday Snapshot: Chilly in Chintsa

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On an early morning walk on the beach in Chintsa, on the Wild Coast in South Africa, I faced into the rising sun, feeling a bit silly and a bit chilly in the wet, coastal winter air. Look for a post soon about our road trip from Cape Town to Durban.

Photo cred to my lovely husband, Alex Romanyshyn.

Health in the Peace Corps, and why I did 100 Days of Yoga

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It started in a hotel room in mid-January, I think. I sat crying on the bed, with three lovely ladies from our Peace Corps group listening and comforting me. It was a mental breakdown about a mental breakdown, a layering of struggles that I had never experienced before Peace Corps.

The breakdown that spurred this one had come about a month earlier, about halfway up Table Mountain in Cape Town. I had struggled up the devil switchbacks of that mountain. I slogged forward,a sweaty mess in the blazing summer sun. I felt, at one point, the wheezing breaths of the start of an asthma attack, something I hadn’t felt for more than ten years.

“I really don’t think I can make it to the top,” I told Alex, tears starting to flow. I rested for a long while, trying to catch my breath, halt my tears, and come to terms with the fact that I may not get up the mountain.

If I turned back, it would be the first mountain that I had ever retreated from. And, despite the suffocating heat and steep incline of the trail, it was still just a couple miles, barely above sea level.  For a Colorado gal who had lived above 8,000 feet and climbed much more formidable mountains before arriving on this side of the world, the possibility itself felt like defeat.

I did make it to the top of Table Mountain, and I felt a restrained triumph when I arrived: I had done the thing I thought I couldn’t, but I had struggled more than I thought I would.

So it is the metaphor for Peace Corps, I suppose.

It was that moment, that feeling, that brought about breakdown 2, the one in the hotel room. I hadn’t entered the room with the intention of airing my troubles or seeking comfort, but I was distraught deep down inside, and I couldn’t hold it in. Earlier that day I had seen one of the girls in the room working out, doing cardio stair-steppers in the deserted hotel stairway.

‘I can’t do that,’ I had thought. ‘I haven’t been able to work out for months.’

At that precise moment, I was feeling a nagging pain in my left lower abdomen, which had come and gone for the past three months or so, and which I had dubbed The Mystery Pain.

Three months with The Mystery Pain hadn’t been the start, or the worst, of my health struggles since coming to Moz. Before that I had spent about three months with ongoing cramps; before that I had suffered from insomnia for about two months. And, just to round things out, I had a few bouts of pretty severe food poisoning sprinkled in there too. It seemed that when one problem got sort of solved after multiple, multi-day trips to Maputo to see doctors, another would spring up.

So it was that I sat on the hotel bed in mid-January, not having made much attempt at exercise-except on-and-off yoga- since the previous April. For so many months, the health issues were so severe that I felt like I couldn’t exercise intensely. Not only was I exhausted and unmotivated, but I had a fear of making things worse, especially when it came to the pains and cramps I was having.

As it was, I hadn’t ever formed a good exercise routine in Moz to begin with. In the first few months, when I felt healthy and fit from our previous life as mountain dwellers, we tried a number of times to find a routine. We went running a few times during training, I tried an 8-week walker-to-runner program when we first got to site (which quickly melted away in the brutal summer sun), we did a part of a 6 week body weight calisthenics plan, and I did yoga on and off through it all.

Before the health issues ever started, there were two big struggles in finding an exercise routine.

One was that Alex and I had never had an exercise routine. Pre-Moz, we were very active, but it wasn’t a plan or program and it took close to zero motivation. We lived in the mountains and the mountains were our gym. We stayed healthy by doing the things we loved doing: biking, hiking, canoeing, snowboarding, and cross-country skiing, with lots of walking and yoga and occasional runs. The fact that it was this easy meant we hadn’t really had to think much about our fitness for about 4 years before Moz.

The other big challenge from the start was finding an exercise routine in a new life that felt completely void of routine. Our schedule in Moz is different every single day, and this took a lot of getting used to for me. There isn’t one specific time each day that can be set aside for working out, unless it’s 5a.m. Some days, I have to be out of the house by 7a.m. for work. Other days we get home from working at 8p.m. There’s a lot of free time in between, but it happens at different times each day. I had the idea that if I was going to do some boring workout plan- for the sake of staying in shape-and not really want to even be doing it, I had better make it a routine or I wouldn’t do it at all. Exercising wasn’t the only thing I tried to fit into a consistent block of time each day, and failed at doing so. It’s odd now to think back at myself trying to compartmentalize my time in this way; the inconsistent schedule that bothered me so much then hardly phases me now. In the end, I did find small ways to build a bit of routine into my days, to have tiny but vital moments of predictability and consistency. But exercise never became one of them.

After mental breakdown 2, the defeat and frustration just kind of brewed and brewed, until finally I told myself that, even with The Mystery Pain lingering around, I could at least start doing something easy, to commit to taking care of my mental state and maybe start regaining my physical health. Through all the ups and downs, yoga had been a go-to for me, a way to calm my thoughts and give gentle exercise to my body, and a way to have time to myself each day.

So, on March 1, I started a 30-day yoga challenge from YouTube (shout out to SarahBeth Yoga). It started so simple, at 10 or 15 minutes a day, and built up from there. I could tell that even the simplest things felt challenging. But when those simple things became simple again, I noticed. That was a positive about losing so much health, I told myself: getting to actively notice it building up again.

At the end of the 30 days, I felt so good and had gotten into the habit of finding time somewhere in the day each day for intentional movement and self care. So I kept going. I think it was at about day 45 that I decided to commit to 100. At first it felt a little extreme and unnecessary; I asked myself if I was being obsessive, expecting myself to exercise every single day. But I wasn’t pushing or forcing, or training for hours each day. I was spending 30 minutes each day doing a good thing for myself. I was listening, paying attention, and taking care of myself.

What finally came out during that long hotel room cry was kind of a raw and sad truth: I was having an identity crisis. An active, snowboardin’, mountain-climbin’, outdoorsy Colorado girl was my identity, and I felt like I had lost it. Never before had I felt limited by my physical fitness; if there was a mountain I wanted to climb, there was no doubt in my mind that I would stand at its peak.

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Now, there was doubt. “That’s who I was,” I cried. “It feels gone now, so who am I now?”

There are a lot of answers, of course, because for everything I’ve lost I’ve gained a whole lot more. But it’s not always so easy to remember this.

With my brief mentions of my 100 days of yoga on Facebook and here on the blog, I felt that all these other things could not be left unsaid.

My 100 days of yoga was not a challenge made for the sake of accomplishment. It was a saving grace after a year and half of mental and physical turmoil. I did not do it to achieve a beautiful pose and post daily photos, because my goal was not to impress, or even inspire, anyone but me. So, the 100 days were for me, but this story is for you.

It was important to me to share all this so you can know why my contented smile in the picture of tree pose I have shared feels like one of my largest triumphs. And it feels crucial to me to say that the crow pose I shared didn’t come until about day 80, and that those seconds spent in it were my strongest, physically, in nearly two years.

But maybe the most important thing that came from my 100 days of yoga, and the journey that led me there, was this thought that started springing up in the quiet, blissed-out moments at the the end of each practice, the things I started saying to myself: thank you for taking this time for you, for listening and paying attention, for playing, smiling, and challenging yourself.

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3 Smiles and A Struggle: 100 days of yoga, Visitors, The girls workshop, and What’s Next

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June was a joyful whirlwind of a month for us, as seems to be the theme of this second year of Peace Corps. I was lucky to go into this busy time feeling solid and well-grounded. The reason was that on June 8, the day before our lives got a little crazy, I completed 100 days of yoga. The 100 days of yoga was something that I had decided to challenge myself to after completing a 30 day yoga challenge in March and feeling really darn good by the end. The whole idea had come about as a way  to start getting back into shape and bring back at least some of the health that I felt like I lost during the first year of Peace Corps. The 100 days did just that, and more. My daily time spent doing yoga became my guaranteed Cece time, to take care of me. What a comfort this was! The challenge also brought about the realization that it is definitely possible to find time every day  for intentional movement and self-care. There were a number of days that I was certain I did not have time for yoga that day but, in the interest of not bungling my  whole challenge, had to find the time. In the end, I found it each and every day, even if it was just ten minutes spent in legs up the wall or a gentle stretch after getting over a stomach bug. I came out of the challenge feeling strong mentally and physically, and full of smiles for this and for having accomplished my goal.

 

A lot of smiles this month came from having visitors. Our first visitor was one of our best friends, Sarah. Sarah was in the Peace Corps in Tanzania from 2010 to 2012 and visiting her at her Peace Corps site was a big part of our Kenya/ Tanzania trip in 2012. In fact, this was the first time that I remember thinking, ‘We could do something like this. We could definitely do Peace Corps.’ From the moment we told her we were going to Peace Corps, she was set on visiting us and seeing our site. You may recall that we met Sarah and our friends Liesel and Jared and Victoria Falls for New Year’s. At the time, they were on a quick 3 week trip in this part of the world. Because of visa costs and time factors, they didn’t visit Mapinhane. However, soon after, Sarah got a job in Tanzania for June and July. She immediately began scheming to visit us here in Mapinhane first. So, we are beyond lucky to have received not one but two visits on the African continent from such a good pal. We spent our short week with Sarah soaking up the sun in Vilanculos, stand-up paddle-boarding, and enjoying perhaps more seafood in one sitting than we have in the last year combined. We then headed to Mapinhane, where Sarah tagged along to class with us- just as we had with her 5 years ago- hit it off with our beloved adult-learners at Adult English Club, sat in front of approximately 40 pairs of staring eyes while I read to primary school students at the library, labored through making Matapa, and got the first-ever full tour of the 7 Wonders of Mapinhane (detailed post coming soon).

We saw Sarah within the last 6 months of her service, when a PCV seems to be constantly oscillating between anxiety and impatience regarding the future, and nostalgia for and weariness toward their country of service. I remember her at that time, thick-skinned and mildly irritated half the time, and downright revelatory the other half. She too, visited us at this same point in our service.

In a week’s time, it felt like something in our friendship with Sarah had come full circle: we visited her Peace Corps site, where the seed of the idea of doing Peace Corps was planted, only to have her visit our Peace Corps site almost exactly 5 years later, and find us in, probably, a similar state to where she was herself at this point 5 years ago.

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We parted ways on opposite sides of the highway that runs through Mapinhane: Alex and Sarah heading north to Vilanculos, where she would catch her flight out, and me heading south the Tofo, with 4 female students from school.

This brings us to the next smile: this year’s REDES workshop. You may remember a bit about REDES, and about being a female from Mozambique, from my post after the workshop last year. REDES stands for “Raparigas em Desenvolvimento, Educação, e Saude,” or ‘Girls in Development, Education, and Health.’ The program is a curriculum of 15 meetings, designed for adolescent girls and covering subjects like good communication, healthy friendships, goals for the future, puberty, reproductive health, HIV, and much more. Last year, I never got a group up and running at school, but was continually nudged by my amazing counterpart, a 12th grader at school named Marizia,to keep trying.

So, this year, the two of us finally got a group of 8th grade girls together that meets twice a month. Each year, Peace Corps Moz puts on regional workshops for REDES, and other such youth groups, in which leaders bring a few of their group members to meet other groups from the region and do more intensive learning about the topics covered in regular meetings. The workshops help create a strong network between the participants; Marizia still talks with a lot of the participants she met last year. They are also meant to be a type of mini-camp, reminiscent in some ways of weekend Girl Scout getaways. There’s a lot of singing, dancing, game-playing, and pillow talk.

This year’s REDES workshop was one of my favorite things that I have done during my Peace Corps service so far. I was so impressed with the PCVs who organized the event; it was dynamic, fun, productive, and full of a constant, buzzing energy. The group facilitators got to work with girls in small groups, for an extended time to talk more in-depth about topics like HIV, puberty, menstruation, and life skills. This led to a lot of great discussion and participation between the girls. The girls amazed us with theatrical performances on the last day, centered around things like higher education and drug and alcohol use. We also played A LOT. The girls and facilitators seemed to always have a song or game in their back pockets, and we spent some time one evening doing Zumba as a big group.

After an awesome and exhausting 3 days, the groups cleared out pretty quick to travel home after breakfast on the last day. All was quiet, and the beach in front of our accommodation was deserted.

“Teacher, vamost mergulhar!” my girls proclaimed. ‘Teacher, let’s swim!’

Having arrived later than expected on the first day, the girls hadn’t had as much free time at the beach as I would have hoped. There was free time here and there during the days of the workshop, during which there would be a mass exodus of girls headed for the beckoning sea just 2 minutes away. Still, I could tell my girls wanted more, and I had promised them some uninterrupted, free time on the beach before our journey home.

There are moments here when I see joy that is so uninhibited, all I can do is watch and try to soak it up in hopes that it will settle into me. This kind of joy isn’t fleeting; once you’ve seen it, you have it with you. A brilliant early morning sun rendered the girls silhouettes as I watched them, at first, jumping waves, laughing, and running from the surge of foamy water. Claenencia, tiny in stature but bursting with a sassy sense of humor, had never seen the ocean before and her string of giggles as she clung to my side were like bubbling purs of a happy kitten. Artezia, always quiet but with a look of contemplation, knowledge and strength, ventured a bit further, holding the hand of Meyvis. And Meyvis.

“Meyvis!” I reveled at her. “O seu coração…está no mar!” ‘Your heart is in the ocean.’

Meyvis often looks serious, angry or irritated even. I see her this way in class and in our REDES meetings, and I saw her like this all weekend. I’ve learned, though, that she isn’t usually angry or irritated. I will have seen her looking this way, and then later overhear her telling her friends how happy she was about whatever it was that was happening when she was glaring, sullenly, from the corner. Although I know this, seeing her smile, seeing her joy come out as she played among the waves was enough to make me smile and laugh too.

In the waves, Meyvis couldn’t stop beaming and laughing. She watched the waves like they were alive, deciding her next move among them, experimenting with a little bit of swimming.

Before too long, I had waded out with the girls. Artezia and Meyvis wanted to do more than jump waves, they said. They wanted to learn to swim. Laying belly down on the sand, I demonstrated the motion of swimming. They practiced. “Consegui!” ‘I succeeded!’ Meyvis told me. Watching them splutter as the water splashed into their faces, I taught them how to hold their breath. They took turns practicing, floating, face down in the water, holding my hands while the water sloshed them around the shallows. ‘Consegui!’ Meyvis beamed after a few rounds. I showed her how to blow bubbles out her nose. She practiced, coming up with her eyes closed, spitting water as she told me “Consegui Teacher!”

“Vamos para lá!” she said next, pointing east to the breaking waves. ‘Let’s go THERE!’

A few times, while they played on the beach or splashed in the shallows, I swam out into the waves alone, diving under them. Now, Meyvis wanted to go.

I explained to her first the principle of diving under the waves. If you are under them, I told her, everything is calm and they can’t batter you. If you stay above the water, that’s when the waves batter you.

We swam out a bit, not as far as I had gone, holding hands the whole way. I told her I would say when to dive under. We watched the waves growing, rolling under the water, before cresting and breaking.

“Agora!” I shouted as one approached us. ‘Now!’

We dove under, and she came up laughing out loud. Again, again, again we dove under.

“Consegui!” She kept telling me.

More then two hours had passed by now, and I practically had to drag them out of the ocean. The busy and productive weekend, seeing their pure joy, and having the chance myself to be free and play left me full to the brim.

 

 

It was also during this REDES workshop weekend that we received our second group of visitors. In fact, this group, Alex’s mom, aunt, uncle, and aunt’s mom, had ended up at the same beach at which the REDES workshop was being held, and were there when I arrived.  They are in southern Africa for two months, completing a big loop that was spurred by coming to visit us in Moz. Because their travel is so long, it is also very flexible, and some switching of plans is what led them to Tofo beach at the same time that I was to be there. Between the activities of the workshop, I was catching up with them, trying to make up for the 20 or so months since last seeing them.

From the REDES workshop, we all traveled back to Mapinhane together, where our family spent a few days tagging along to school with us, meeting all our favorite people and, again, laboring for their Matapa.  Our time with them was rich and satisfying. Just simply having the time to spend together, chatting and catching up, around the dinner table was more special than anything else we could have done.

As we try to prepare for our last leg of Peace Corps service, it’s stuff like this that fills the tank, gives us the energy to finish strong. As if the time spent catching up and hanging out with people we love wasn’t enough, having visitors also meant getting to experience the strange kind of magic that happens when you see your Peace Corps service through new eyes, as a visitor sees it.

For the second week in a row, our service got to be new and fresh again, perhaps more so with Alex’s family than with Sarah, who could draw a lot of similarities to her own service. Suddenly,  the things that are normal to us now seemed a bit adventurous once again: chickens on the bus, people who think you’re just another tourist mulungu, the energy of a Mozambican vegetable market. The slow pace of life that we have adapted to felt fleeting and precious: nearly nothing runs by a clock and we nearly never have too little time to stop and chat with someone. Our uncertainty about progress in our work got put on pause to the compliments of someone seeing it from the outside: it’s an accomplishment to teach with nothing more than a blackboard and chalk, and do it in another language, it’s impressive to manage 45 8th graders at the same time, it’s incredible to see the confidence of our adult English learners as they read aloud. The friendships and sense of community that we are used to were marveled at: we pick Matapa leaves off our bread vendor’s trees, there’s a give and take of resources between people in the community , and some days we can’t get through a full sentence while we walk through town without the calling of one of our names interrupting. In just a few short days, all of these re-realizations were a reminder of what a special and unique time this is for us.

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Alex’s fam at Adult English Club.

While the presence of visitors has the ability to really ground us in the present and let us observe our service as they do, it also brings about lots of questions about life after Peace Corps, which seems to be barreling toward us at a somewhat frightening rate. This struggle is twofold. First, our visitors reminded us what life in the States is like. Yes, some days it feels like we’ve forgotten what it feels like to live in the States, as strange as that sounds. But it seems there is no better way to remember than spending time with Americans straight out of America. Over the course of our two weeks with visitors, we noticed a number of American tendencies that now seem to be less a part of our life than they once were: an attachment to schedules and plans; an unbridled optimism towards problems and the presentation of solutions in the form of “Why  don’t you just…..” statements; and a probably normal but high-for-us standard of hygiene and cleanliness of self, home, and possessions, as seen in Sarah’s diligent sweeping of ants off the outside of our house and Alex’s aunt’s suggestion-before seeing them and realizing they may never have been cleaned properly- that we clean our shared toilets with baking soda and vinegar. Needless to say, our response to both: “Not worth it….” All of these little things remind us of what’s next in our life, of all the things about American life that we will have to re-remember and re-adapt to .

The other side of the “What’s Next” struggle comes in the answer to the question, “What’s next?” The answer is this: We don’t know.

We do not begrudge our visitors for bringing to light the fact that it’s time to start thinking about the future. Not at all. With or without the presence of visitors, trying to answer this question, if only for ourselves, has certainly been a struggle lately. It’s not that we haven’t thought about it, it’s more that we just still don’t know. We know it’s time to think about it. We know that ‘having a plan’ is the thing that’s supposed to come next. We know that some of the PCVs in our group are already there and lots of others aren’t. Perhaps it’s in realizing how much less attached we have become to long-term plan-making. Perhaps it’s that life in Moz has drilled in to us a sense that most things are utterly unpredictable, and, subsequently, left us mildly resigned from any attempt at control. Or perhaps it’s that our whole sense of time here has slowed waaaaayyy down, meaning that our five remaining months still feel like a lot of time. But more than any of this, I think it’s that, for all of the ideas and dreams and schemes that we have thought about for life post-Moz, committing to anything feels like a weird betrayal, like Moz is already in the back of our minds as we jump ahead to the next plan. Every time we try to make a set plan for how the next year or so of our life will look, it feels horrible and forced and completely unnatural. Right now, we don’t want to be planning our next big chapter. We want to be in this chapter, because we know this time is going to fly and we know we will never have anything remotely like it again.

I know that all of these changes will reverse, to some degree, one day. I know that we will once again become plan-,makers, even if it’s to a lesser degree. I know that life one day may feel slightly more predictable, whether or not we will like that, I don’t know. I know that some day I will probably try to regain a sense of control on things, but maybe it will never be to the level that I tried before. I know that it won’t be long before our sense of time changes again and 5 months feels like nothing instead of an eternity. These are products of the culture you are surrounded by.  Although we didn’t know it 2 years ago, these changes were inevitable in coming here, and their reversal is inevitable in our return. And I know that we’ll find a balance, eventually, of enjoying our last months here and thinking about what’s to come.

But for now, ‘What’s Next’ is nothing more than the hours that will pass today: going for a run on my favorite path, hoping that bread comes in to the market from Vilanculos, and cooking up a hearty dinner.

We have 5 more months to enjoy a life that’s this simple, and that’s what’s next on the list of things to do.

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