Tag Archives: REDES Mozambique

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding balance 😉

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

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

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Being a Mozambican Female

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What does it mean to be a Mozambican female?

It means you handwash clothes for your whole family at least once a week.

It means you cook three meals a day for your family.

It means you haul water every day for your family.

It means you tend to the garden, if you have one.

All of which mean you have less access to education, whether you are a child or an adult, because these chores take up a lot of your day.

It means you are responsible for whatever child is within your sight.

It means you carry a baby on your back, and everything else on your head.

It means you are judged for drinking alcohol.

It means you are afraid to tell a man ‘no,’ ‘stop,’ or ‘I don’t like that.’

It means you aren’t always the boss of your body.

It means that when you have your period, life stops-you can’t go to work or school- because you have no access to pads, tampons, or a Diva Cup. Not to mention having no running water during this time.

It means stricter rules for you, and less freedom with your “free time,” which barely exists as it is.

It means taking care of each other, in sickness and in health.

It means that you could be part of the 50% of females here that are married before the age of 18, part of the 90% that drops out of school before finishing secondary, or part of the 41% (between the ages of 15-19) that are already mothers, or pregnant.

It means community, like none I have ever seen.

And it means you have strength, like none I have ever seen.

These things are true for orphaned girls at a rescue center, our 7 year old neighbor from training, our host mom, our high school and primary school students, our market ladies, the majority of females in Mozambique.

After nine months of observing and learning about the lives of females here, and hearing their stories firsthand, I had the chance to take 3 of my female students to a workshop for the REDES program in Mozambique. REDES means Raparigas em Desenvolvimento, Educação e Saude, or Girls in Development, Education, and Health. REDES was started by Peace Corps Volunteers about 11 years ago and there are now 119 groups operating in Mozambique.

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From left to right, Gina-9th grade, Monica-8th grade, Marizia, the future student leader of our REDES group-11th grade.

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At the three-day training, participants from the Gaza and Inhambane provinces of Mozambique learned about sexual and reproductive health, decision-making, goal-setting, finances and entrepreneurship, Malaria, HIV/AIDs, and their rights. Some groups traveled with Peace Corps Volunteers and others traveled solely with their Mozambican group leader, as many REDES groups now operate without the day-to-day support of a Peace Corps Volunteer!

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Gina hand-sewing a reusable menstrual pad.

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Participating in a game about how HIV attacks your body.

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Marizia leading a discussion during a break between sessions.

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A relay race to place Malaria symptoms and prevention methods in the right category.

This workshop was a unique opportunity to educate girls about topics that aren’t often widely talked about in Mozambique, and to present them with the opportunity to start or participate in a REDES group, where they will set goals for the future, continue discussions about rights and health and education, and learn to make and sell handicrafts.

It was also a special opportunity for me to get to know these three girls outside of school, to hang out, and talk about their lives. The discussions with them this weekend were some of the best I have had in Mozambique; We talked about body image (how it differs between Moz and America), racism, and how they would feel if they arrived in a country where there were no black people and every white person on the street yelled ‘black person, black person’ as they walked by (aka…how I feel when I walk down the road and everyone yells ‘white person, white person’…), breast feeding, menstruation, their families, their goals for the future. I was impressed by these bright, silly, and confident young women, and it was a much-needed reminder of what I came here to do.

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Trying for a jumpy picture.

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These smiles…

 

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Getting my hair braided by many hands brought back memories of my time at the Girl’s Rescue Center in Kenya, where, 6 years ago, I fell in love with working with girls, and with this part of the world.

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Certificates of completion.

When I asked the girls if they learned new things this weekend they said, “Yes teacher, many new things.” And then Gina said, “I will go back and teach the girls in the dorm at school about these things.”

And I realized that this is how change begins, a little seed of new knowledge planted in a place where it can’t help but grow, like a dormitory full of adolescent girls.

Maybe these three girls, at least, will be the boss of their own body. Maybe they will remember their right to refuse sex or make a partner use a condom, avoid pregnancy before they are ready, and finish secondary school. Maybe they will insist on their partner getting tested for HIV. Maybe we can together make a bunch of homemade menstrual pads so girls in our community can go to school when they have their period. Already, I heard them tell some bothersome men ‘No! Leave us alone!’ in the bus station as we travelled back. Maybe they will go on to start their own business, or go to college and choose their career. And for this, maybe their sisters, brothers, friends, cousins, and future children will know these things too.

So, here’s a shout out to all the females out there: American, Mozambican, and otherwise. Força, ladies!

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The sun rising on a new day over Moz 🙂

3 Smiles and A Struggle: Appreciating Peace Corps, A Good Week for Learning, Mozambican Women and Staying Steady

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The last few weeks have been strange and a bit tumultuous, full of the extreme highs and lows of Peace Corps Service that we have heard about, the 27-month-long roller coaster ride that we chose to get on. But it feels like we are on an uphill…or a downhill??..I guess it depends on what part of the roller coaster you like. I’ve been searching for Smiles and, as it turns out, I didn’t have to search too hard.

We recently travelled to the capitol city of Maputo, with our entire Moz 25 family, to celebrate the life and service of Drew Farr, who passed away in a car accident on March 25. The memorial service was put together by other PCV’s in our group. It was beautifully done and had a bit of everything: pictures, stories, live music, letters from Drew’s friends and family back home, lots of tears, some good laughs, and all of us, together. I think we are all grateful that Peace Corps organized a way for us to get together and celebrate Drew and support each other.

Drew’s parents’ message to us was one of the most powerful encouragements I have yet heard during Peace Corps service, and I know it will stick with me for a long time. They reminded us of Drew’s happiness here and his passion for Mozambique, and they encouraged us to go forward with our service just as passionately. From this message alone, my appreciation for being where I am in life grew.

My appreciation for what Peace Corps is only grew more as our whirlwind of a weekend continued. For the few days that we were in Maputo, Peace Corps arranged for us all to be hosted by American families in Maputo: USAID workers, embassy workers, missionaries, and others. These families opened their homes to us on short notice, fed us protein and real tortilla chips, offered us fine whiskey, friendly conversation, and stories of Peace Corps past, from their own experiences as PCV’s.

We spent our bit of free time wide-eyed and  wandering the aisles of clean, air-conditioned shopping centers, trying to remember what we needed among all those aisles and trying to decide which flavor, brand, or size of [insert any product here] that we wanted, confused by having any choice at all.

When we got hungry we ate pumpkin bread (PUMPKIN bread!), sliced bread (SLICED!), and perhaps the most delicious Shrimp Pad-Thai ever in the history of the world.

With a white porcelain pot of lemongrass tea on the side.

All the while, we were asking each other, “Does anyone else feel like Maputo isn’t real life?”

Yes.

Yes was the answer every time.

It happened so fast, in just 4 and a half months of being at site. We are no longer accustomed to shopping indoors, food in packages, good whiskey, air-conditioning, conversations with people from our own culture, toaster ovens, …sliced bread to put in a toaster oven, young children who know how to read, trampolines, private vehicles, things that aren’t dusty, hot showers, pets you’re not afraid of getting worms from, and balanced meals that include starch, protein, vegetables, fruit, and flavor.

It didn’t feel like the Mozambique we have gotten used to.

It was magical and indulgent, awkward and eye-opening.

After two days, I was ready to go back to the Mozambique I am used to, or getting used to. This exposure gave me a bit of appreciation for the unique opportunity that Peace Corps really is. I don’t dislike hot showers, trampolines, private vehicles, or kids that can read. In fact, I love all of these things. And we live pretty chique for PCV’s (yeah…the secret about the immersion blender is out…). But I couldn’t help but think that whether we go home after Peace Corps or continue to work abroad, we will most likely never again live without running water in our house, a washing machine, good internet, an abundant produce selection, restaurants, and the many other wonders we saw in the big city. We may never again live as a minority in a rural town where only 3 other people speak our language fluently. We may never again have the chance to live and work alongside people of another country and culture every day.

For better or for worse, we have this hiccup in time- 20 short months more- to soak up all we can of this weird and wonderful chapter of our life, rural Mozambique, and our Peace Corps journey.

It’s funny how it happens: when you start to appreciate something a little more, you really start to notice the positive side of the experience. Part of the real fun of Peace Corps is that we get to teach a variety of age groups in a variety of settings, and we get to (…have to) be really creative.Sometimes this really blows up in our faces and our lesson erupts into total chaos. Other times, we see good learning happening, students participating, smiling, understanding, and getting excited about learning. I had a few of these good moments this week.

April is World Malaria month, and we decided to focus our English Clubs around Malaria this week. We found out what our students knew about Malaria, then presented some new facts. We then learned Malaria vocabulary in English and learned about what to do if you get Malaria. Next, we played symptoms charades, where a pretend mosquito ‘bit’ students and then they had to come up and act out a symptom. Finally, we talked about the importance of using a mosquito net at night had our students draw themselves under a mosquito net so they can hang it up in the dorms for all to see.

 

Another moment of good learning happened at the elementary school library. We have been reading ‘Estela-Estrela do Mar’ (Stella-Star of the Sea) for 3 weeks now, completing a different literacy activity with the book each week. This week was the final week with Estela, and we went ‘fishing.’

Students used a fishing pole-string tied to a ruler- to fish over the top of our ocean poster. Each student took turns catching a letter on the fishing line, and then had to find something on our ocean poster that started with that letter, say which letter they had caught, what sound it makes, and what item they found on the poster.

This activity was a big hit with the kids and garnered more participation from them than any other activity I have done.

Yay for learning, literacy, and libraries!

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Next up in the line of smiles this week is some of the Mozambican women that I am starting to work with. When it comes to starting secondary projects (things we do outside of teaching hours), it can be difficult to find people who are able to commit time as volunteers to these projects. Most teachers in Mozambique complete two years of school before beginning to teach, and can then continue to pursue the equivalents of Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees after their career is started. Because of this, many of the teachers in town are enrolled in distance schooling on top of their teaching schedule, raising a family, and potentially supporting other family members living with them. Not to mention that normal every day things take up way more time here; clothes are hand-washed and most people cook on charcoal stoves, to name a couple. Asking someone to work more hours for no money is a tricky thing. But it is possible to find people who can fit in a couple more hours a week to serve their community in a different way.

Last week, a teacher from the other secondary school in town expressed interest in working with me at the primary school library, after a past PCV from our site told her I was now leading the library project. After observing one of my sessions there, she led one of her own and did a great job. She was a natural with basic literacy skills and seemed to really enjoy reading with these younger students. I am so excited about her self-motivation and interest in the library, and just to get to know another female in Mapinhane. We will now be able to double the number of weekly groups at the library- 4 instead of 2- and hopefully motivate others in town to commit an hour a two a week to these students.

I also had my first REDES team meeting this week. REDES is Raparigas Em Desenvolvimento, Educação, e Saude- Girls in Development, Education, and Health. There was a training for the program recently and I was planning to go with an older female student from school, with the idea being that she, I, and my only female teaching colleague at school would run the group together. Because of the memorial I was not able to attend, but we arranged for the student to go with another PCV. At our meeting she presented all of the information from the training to us and updated us on what our next steps need to be. We made a plan on how to form our group, and then the conversation moved into a discussion about abortion, early marriage, pregnancy, sex, and the challenges that girls in Mozambique face- all topics that are not openly talked about here. I only listened and observed, as it really hit me what a valuable program this is in Mozambique. I think that my two female counterparts will be great leaders for the secondary school girls in our group, who will now have access to knowledge about sexual health, women’s rights, and entrepreneurship and access to workshops and further trainings in these areas.

And all of this after celebrating Mozambican Women’s Day earlier this month!

 

As noted, the last few weeks have been tumultuous and the struggle has been to stay steady in the face of all these ups and downs. The roller coaster is cultural clashes after living our daily life in a setting that most Mozambicans live theirs and then taking a two-day trip to Maputo that felt like a two-day trip home to the U.S.  The roller coaster is being in a slump here while we are missing out on things at home. The roller coaster is being happy here while we are missing out on things at home. It’s seeing so many direct opposites on a daily basis: the best and worst of myself, the best and worst of this country. And it’s the constant tug-of-war, balancing act of being out in our community, trying to communicate and form relationships or in our house, speaking English and feeling at ease, save for the tension created by our most recent episode of Lost.

The importance of knowing how to support myself and others in my Peace Corps family has been a personal challenge. And the importance of perspective and adaptability has become clearer with each day in Mozambique, especially in the last three weeks. The only things I know to do are hold on to what makes me comfortable, let go of what makes me comfortable when I feel up to it, look for the smiles, and trust that it will all even out.