Tag Archives: Peace Corps Mozambique blogs

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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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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What Makes A Place A Home

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“My students were so bad today!” I ranted to Marcia last week. I had arrived at her shop in a tizzy, having felt the urgent need to flee our house on the school grounds after an exceptionally frustrating morning in class. “They steal my things, they show me disrespect, they only want to play during class. I am tired. I had to escape from them!”

“Ayay,” she listened, making this common sound, a sign of disapproval.

“Then, another student asked me if I even speak Portuguese! He said he only ever sees me speaking English,” I told her. “I speak Portuguese every day!”

“Ayay! You speak Portuguese,” she said. “But you came here to be an English teacher. Your Portuguese will probably end after Mozambique, but the English you teach people could help them in their future.”

“I told him that exactly! Then, he told me all my students say I am not tough enough because I don’t hit them. These students! They frustrate me, Marcia.”

I went on to spout multiple frustrations from recent weeks: they don’t say thank you when I give them things, they show disrespect to each other, they cheat on their tests!

“And they are always telling me my hair is disorganized!” I huffed.

Her response: When they tell you your hair is disorganized, you tell them ‘I am good how I am.’ You worry about your furture. Right now, your future is low because you are worrying about my hair. Worry about your future!

“Yeah!” I agreed, laughing now. I sighed, gathering myself. “Tomorrow is a new day.”

“Yes,” she agreed.  “Tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow, enter the classroom with strength.”

“Thank you, Marcia,” I told her, giving her the small handhold-handshake that is customary for saying goodbye.

I ranted to Marcia. She empathized with me. She advised me well.

It was the most common of interactions between friends.

I had never had a conversation like that with a Mozambican before. I had never let my guard down enough to let a Mozambican friend in like that. I am always careful to leave the house with a smile, constantly aware in the back of my mind that I am being watched, that my actions, words, and expressions contribute to shaping people’s view of foreigners, of Americans.

A month and a half ago, I was fairly certain that I wanted to leave Mozambique in January.

‘The thought of being here for 14 more months is completely unbearable,’ I said on multiple occasions.

I felt defeated. Since May, so much of my mental energy had been consumed by worrying about health issues. Any energy that was left was used up just doing the bare minimum to get by each day. I went through periods of time where I woke up multiple times a week, sometimes every day, and the first thought that came into my head was ‘I want to go home.’

It’s a strange thing, because those months weren’t all bad; there were beautiful moments, successful moments, happy moments. I found a lot of joy in the slow pace of life here, in getting projects up and going, in hearing great ideas from students and counterparts, in getting to know people. And I kept on going.

But, the same thought kept coming up: I just don’t feel right.  In my heart, I felt a squirming, restless, discomfort.

When this discomfort is felt, it needs validation. It became easy to give reason to this feeling by noticing and hanging on to all the frustrating parts of being here: the naughty students, the language barrier, the health issues, the negative interactions with people.

And those things are all real. They are not merely inventions of an uncomfortable mind but, rather, a lens through which I was seeing life here.

From the glimmers of happy moments that I occasionally noticed during this period, I knew there was another lens to look through.

‘I think I am just choosing to see all the bad things,’ I said to Alex one day. ‘I know those good things are out there, I am just not choosing to see them right now. And I don’t want to live my life like that.”

Eventually, some months after this statement, I made a deal with myself: at the end of each day I will write down three good things about the day and hang them on the wall.

I still wasn’t sure I wanted to be here for the next 14 months, but I was sure I didn’t want to spend my days trudging through, trying not to be miserable.

And I didn’t want my good moments stashed away for later in a jar or journal. I knew I needed to see them there, all the time.

Knowing I needed something to write down each day, I started to notice things like the little girl, alone on the path to town at 7a.m. dancing gracefully, her arms swaying in the air. I committed to memory the moment an elderly woman with a bucket on her head that gave me a thumbs up and a “Nice” in English, with a completely straight face as she passed me on the street. And I had to document the punishingly hot day that all the market ladies were sitting around in their bras, completely unabashed.

These moments are a reminder of how strangely and beautifully different life here is. They are a reminder of what a unique time in life this is for us.

More than these moments, though, the wall is filled with moments experienced or observed in the context of relationships between people:

A students’ smiley face next to my name on his test heading, a small indication that he was happy to be in my class that day. The easy and admirable friendship between two of our favorite Mozambican friends. The times I was brought to tears of laughter, sitting around our kitchen table with Alex and the Sara/hs. Someone’s shout of “Servido!” as I walk by, an invitation to come share food or drink with them. The days I spend more than an hour just talking to someone. The neighbor girl toddling over to play. Uninhibited laughter with our adult English learners. Ranting to Marcia.

I look at the wall and I see it. This is what I value. This is what makes life here, and anywhere, feel normal. This is what makes a squirming heart want to settle and stay. This is what makes a place a home.

“Quando está aqui em Moçambique, tem familia,” Marcia said to me earlier this week, her hands on her heart.

When you are here in Mozambique, you have family.

Sunday Snapshot: Sirius Twinkles

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What is that? There, out toward the ocean, blinking red to blue to green.

It’s a satellite.

No. It’s not moving.

It’s the top of the nearby cell tower.

No. That’s further south. Not straight ahead.

We have no moon right now. And we have no running water in the house, ever. Brushing our teeth outside each night is both a habit of hygiene and ritual of watching how the night sky changes.

It’s Sirius. Bright. Right ahead. Twinkling. Changing colors above the line of palms.

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I’ve never seen a star twinkle and change like that.

So, bed time can wait until we are satisfied by looking up at this big wide universe.

And suddenly there’s that feeling that I love, but haven’t felt in a while: the feeling of being so small, in comparison.

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Photo Credits to Alex Romanyshyn

 

Sunday Snapshots: Peace, Love, and Baby Jane

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I remembered this week that I went through a short phase here on Happily Lost of posting a Sunday Snapshot every week. I am not sure why I got out of the habit of the Sunday Snapshot, but I have decided to start up again. Without further ado, some happenings from this week:

This past Tuesday was Day of Peace in Mozambique. This is a national holiday to celebrate the signing of the Peace Accord on October 4, 1992, which put an end to the civil war that took place in Mozambique from 1977-1992. The political situation in Mozambique has been complicated for decades and conflict between the two main political parties continues, but Mozambicans want peace in their young country.

Our town held a Dia de Paz celebration at the town center and, not knowing quite what time it was to start, we ended up arriving near the end, just in time to hold hands and sway along with some colleagues to a peace song and then hang out with some Mapinhane kids for a bit.

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Cleverly-made cars that many kids around town run around with. This one was extra special, sporting the Moz flag.

The next day, October 5, began Alex and my anniversary celebrations, which take place 3 days apart. On the 5th we celebrated our 3-year wedding anniversary and on the 8th we celebrated 11 years of being together. I love October, and it is made even better by getting to kick-off the month each year with celebrations. The celebrations were simple and reminiscent: we looked at a lot of old pictures and wedding pictures and video and cooked crepes and butternut squash pasta and carrot cake on the charcoal stove (the gas ran out..). This year, the anniversaries came with a bit of extra emotion: happiness, of course, saudades for home and our normal Fall celebration, and a strange confusion that hit me as I realized how much our lives have changed in the 3 years since our wedding and in the 11 since we started out.

I remember how we started our wedding vows to each other: Our love is journey; from mountaintops to ocean floors; from childhood to adulthood; and from this day forward into the great unknown.

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Snow Mountain Ranch, Colorado.

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Magaruque Island, Mozambique

Last but not least, our newest niece, Jane Kingsley, was born in Colorado on October 6 (October 7 in Moz 😉 ). She came a bit early and is an itty bitty thing at 5lbs 10oz. Like the anniversaries, the birth of Baby Jane brought with it a mix of joy and a bit of disbelief and a bit of sadness about not getting to meet her right away. But we sure are happy she’s here!

Welcome to the world Ms. Jane.

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3 Smiles and A Struggle: Puppies, Pumpkin, Positive Behavior and My Dang Health

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This past weekend Alex and I and our sitemate Sarah headed inland to visit our good friend Sara’s site, Mabote. After waiting about 4 hours for a car to Mabote to arrive (somewhat typical, as it turns out), we finally got onto a chapa minibus and bumped along the dirt road 120 kilometers to Mabote. The time for the Sara/h’s departure from Mozambique is quickly approaching, and seeing Mabote was on our list of things to do before Sara leaves there. Our visit to Mabote was made extra special because Sara’s dog recently gave birth to 9 puppies. So, we got to spend the weekend snuggling with a puddle of 2-week-old puppies, as they were learning to walk and bark and open their eyes. And any weekend full of puppies is a weekend full of smiles!

 

 

More smiles came last weekend, in the form of my Grandma’s pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. While October is my favorite month for all its Fall glory, we used the last weekend of September to kick-off America Fall, and crack open one of the cans of pumpkin that my lovely mother brought from America when she visited. The months of September and October look a bit different here than they do at home. Summer is beginning, the school year is winding down, the leaves are….still green…always green, and there isn’t a pumpkin to be found. This time of year brings with it extra ‘saudades’- the Portuguese word for the feeling of missing something- and having a taste of home was just what I needed to start my favorite month off right.

 

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Last trimester, my students blindsided me just a bit with some pretty out of control behavior in the classroom. It was clear that the novelty of having a foreign teacher faded with the first trimester. So for this, the third trimester of the year, I have implemented a positive behavior plan and reward system for my students, and have found it to be a great tool for a large classroom. Each class period, my students can earn up to 5 points, 1 each for arriving on-time, being prepared, listening, working well with colleagues, and participating. In increments of 20, they can earn small prizes from me as a whole class. After the first few days of getting used to the new system, I have found that now my students police each other a bit more- if people are talking, I am no longer the first to tell them to quiet down and listen- and help each other out a bit more too- if someone forgot a pen, a colleague is quicker to lend them one so they don’t all lose their preparedness point. It’s a simple enough tactic and opens up a lot of opportunity for discussion about good behavior and for praise, which these students don’t get much of. I plan to start with this plan during first trimester next year. Today, my students passed their first increment of 20. The class ended with lots of cheers and lots of requests for candy as their prize.

 

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The struggle recently has been with my health. This is, perhaps, a contributing factor to my lack of writing for the past month. For one, I have been busy playing catch-up after taking multiple medical trips to the capitol in the past 2 months. Also, it’s just hard to be honest on a public platform about something that is personal and difficult, but that’s what these posts are for: to share the ups and downs. Sorry guys, I’ve been avoiding you. On purpose. My ongoing health issues have been one of the hardest and most frustrating parts of my Peace Corps Service thus far…and I haven’t wanted to talk about it.

I have struggled with having to miss a week of work at a time to go to the capitol for one 30 minute doctor’s appointment. I have struggled with members of my community asking why I have ‘disappeared,’ as Mozambicans like to phrase the question when you are out of town for any length of time..sometimes even just half a day. I have struggled with my students wondering what is wrong with me/ thinking I am gone so much because I am pregnant. I have struggled with getting used to the Mozambican healthcare system (What’s HIPPA? Please, shout my private medical info across the whole waiting room. And when I’m changing into that gown? Yessss…it’s a great opportunity to further stare at my whiteness..) and navigating it in Portuguese. I have struggled with communication breakdowns between me and my Peace Corps doctors. I have struggled with feeling like an extra-needy wife (Shout out to Alex, who has been my substitute teacher, shoulder to cry on, listening ear, and generally attentive husband) . I have struggled with not being able to exercise because of these issues. I have struggled to stay positive and remind myself that nothing is permanent, even when it really feels like it is. Oh, and I have struggled with the actual health parts of the health issue: bad medication, body probs, and continued frustration and disappointment at not being able to figure out the problem.

Maybe the reason I am able to write about it now is that I feel like I am coming out of it. Slowly but surely, things are getting better. I am returning to my routine; my body is starting to feel like itself again.

So, here’s to health, to hoping this struggle is ending, and to continuing to look for all the little smiles along the way, which seem too small to mention but, as it turns out, are really what get a girl through.