Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sweat, dirt and mango juice

I have been at site for over a week now in what Peace Corps calls the “settling in” phase before school starts (on Jan 15). I’m living with another volunteer, Valerie, in a cement house on our school compound. Valerie’s from Texas and will be teaching English. She and I spent the first week sorting through years’ worth of accumulated junk from former volunteers, engaging in small battles against household pests (cockroaches, termites, spiders, ants…), getting to know our neighbors and trying to acclimate to the heat.

“Acclimate”… it’s a relative term. Here it means accepting the fact that you are constantly soaked in sweat. It has exceeded 100 degrees F most days and is not much cooler at night. Val and I bought a fan (a big investment on a Peace Corps budget!), took it home and just stood in front of it for a long, long time… My strategy is to pour water over myself and stand in front of the fan sopping wet. It’s almost like air conditioning… but not really. It is bizarre to think that there is snow and cold back home. We’re going to the beach for Christmas.

What does one do when it is this hot? Good question. Getting out of the house is a start, since it tends to trap the heat. Once outside, however, I must face the blazing African sun. I slather on sunscreen and then walk around under an umbrella (I’m not the only one, Mozambicans use umbrellas in the sun too). My sunblock/sweat-covered skin is a magnet for dirt, which gets blown into the air and sticks. When I take a bath (at least twice a day) I finally discover which are tan lines and which are just dirt. I have acquired quite the “Chaco tan” already.

Not too far from our house is a large river, my favorite destination when I am out to “passear.” On the way I greet my new neighbors and try to tell them my name, which is apparently difficult to pronounce. It ends up being “Claa…. (voice trails off)” and they just smile and nod. Valerie goes by “Valeria” here, which is no problem. When she and I are walking together people will say “Hi Valeria and… her friend!” Perhaps I’m stubborn, bit I refuse to become “Clancia” for the next two years. The neighbor kids just call me “teacha!” which is fine by me.

I want to tell a quick story about mangos. There are big shady mango trees all over the place and they are just coming into season. Anywhere you go people are knocking them out of the trees with rocks or sticks and the ground is littered with mango pits. As I was “passearing” by the river on Sunday, a woman was collecting mangos in a basket. She did not speak Portuguese and looked terrified when I said “bom dia!” but when I broke out my limited Xangana to say “D’shili!” (“good morning!”) she responded with a smile and handed me five mangos. I took them in both hands, said “kanimambo!” (“thank you!”) and went on my way.

Back towards the agricultural school a young man shouted “hello!”from a pig sty. He vaulted the fence and strutted over, ready to try some suave lines, but when I told him I was a teacher at his school he suddenly became shy and respectful. He politely asked me for a mango and I handed it over, though hesitantly seeing as he had just been shoveling pig poop.

I wandered over to the river and sat on the high bank under the shade of a tree, watching in envy as people took advantage of the cool water (I am prohibited from swimming in fresh water). Women washed their clothes on the banks as naked little kids splashed around; others put braying goats on their shoulders and forded the shallowest part. While I watched, I ate two mangos, getting the juice all over my hands and face. It mixed in with the dirt, sweat and sunblock. By the time I got home I was ready for a bath and had two mangos left: one to share with Valerie and the other to eat later.

What is the point of the mango story? I’m not sure. Seems like it would be a great analogy doesn’t it? Let me know if you have any good ideas.

Some people have asked me about mail. The postal situation is sketchy here, so for now we are having things sent to the Peace Corps office in Maputo. You may send things to the following address until further notice:

Clancy Brown
Corpo da Paz
345 Avenida de Zimbabwe
Maputo, Mozambique

Wishing you all happy holidays and sending you warm wishes, sunshine and mangos from Mozambique!

P.S. I haven’t responded to the HIV post from Dec 1 but I will soon.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

More photos!

Here are some photos from my training village. We're in the mountains here, it's quite beautiful. I leave on Tuesday for my permanent site, finally!

My homestay house
Some neighbor kids playing with water

"Corta-se cabelo, vende-se carvão, vende-se credito" ("Haircuts, coal for sale, cell phone credit for sale")
Papaya trees
Mamás coming home from church in their white hats

Lobolo (traditional wedding) procession

Central market

Central market

"Ishh yôwê!" - a favorite Mozambican expression and the slogan for a mobile service provider

Ladder on a tree


Cross - relic of catholic Portuguese colonists

Civil war propaganda


Mango grove

Border with Swaziland


Getting stopped by border control

Border with Swazi from above

Freshly tilled land

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Word HIV/AIDS Day - Q & A

Today was a day to build awareness about HIV/AIDS and commemorate those who have died from complications of this disease. Approximately 16% of Mozambicans are infected with HIV. Here in the south of the country, that figure is closer to 27% (and those are conservative figures!).

Living in a community where more than one in four people around you has HIV is a real wake-up call. As you can imagine, HIV/AIDS has been a major theme of our Peace Corps training. It's not just about educating people on how the disease is spread, but also about eliminating the stigmas surrounding the disease and helping HIV positive people and their loved ones live fulfilling lives.

The education I received in the United States left me with all kinds of misconceptions and paranoia relating to HIV/AIDS. I still have more to learn, but I definitely understand this disease and its effects much better than I did two months ago.

I'd like open the floor to questions from readers of this blog about any topic related to HIV/AIDS (in general or specifically relating to Mozambique). If you don't have a Blogger account you can e-mail me. I have a lot of HIV/AIDS education resources at my disposal and I will do my best to answer your questions.

Some examples to get you started...

* Why are there so many more cases of HIV in Subsaharan Africa than elsewhere?
* Can I get HIV from shaking hands with a sweaty person?
* What does a woman do if she's pregnant and HIV positive?
* How much access do Mozambicans have to HIV testing, counselling, condoms, ARV's and other resources?
* What are some common myths surrounding HIV/AIDS in Mozambique?
* Why haven't we found a cure for HIV yet?
* What are some challenges an HIV positive person may face in Mozambique?
* Is it safe for Peace Corps Volunteers to work in a country where HIV is so prevalent?

Hopefully these questions inspired other ones. I'd like to hear them!

Monday, November 30, 2009

If Elton John and Tina Turner had a love child…

The rains have stopped and I have been passearing quite a bit. Turns out there are stunning waterfalls an hour outside of town. You can climb mangos trees on the way and shake out the ripening fruit for a snack. Pretty much all around us there are verdant hillsides and stunning views into valleys. I’m not sure why I didn’t notice how beautiful my surroundings were until this last week… perhaps I was too distracted by sensory overload and culture shock to be able to register more than a ten yard radius from where I stood.

In addition to the sun coming out, last week was highlighted by Thanksgiving, the culmination of model school and, most exciting of all, the announcement of our site placements. Thanksgiving was on Wednesday (just because) and most of the meal was cooked potluck-style by trainees. People pulled off such miracles as garlic mashed potatoes, apple stuffing, mac n’ cheese, pumpkin and apple pies, rum cake and chocolate chip cookies. I foolishly decided to cook beans and was relegated to cooking over coals, fanning to keep them red hot and waiting three hours for the beans to cook, but they went over well. The one food item that was not touched by any of the 70 trainees was the giant bowl of xima (big surprise).

Before the feast they handed each of us an envelope inside of which was sealed our fate for the next two years. We opened them all at once in a flurry of excitement and each person placed their name on a map of Mozambique. Turns out I’m going to the same place I visited a few weeks ago and requested, so I am pleased. There will be many blog entries to describe my site as I get acquainted with it but here’s a quick summary:
one of a cluster of cement/plaster houses on school compound, lots of kids around, gas stove with oven, small refrigerator, electricity, nearby water pump, mango trees, teaching Biology at the agricultural high school, about 30 minute walk/5 minute ride from large town with a great market, school compound surrounded by farm fields, can walk to a large bridge over the Limpopo River, flat and inland (no beach or mountains), very hot in summer but chilly in winter, 2 hours by chapa to Xai Xai (provincial capital on coast), 3-4 hours from Maputo.

It’s a huge relief to finally know where we’re headed! Luckily we had model school the past few weeks to distract us for from the agonizing anticipation. Mozambican students are technically on vacation, but we lured them back to school by the promise of cookies, fancy certificates and the novelty of American teachers.

On Tuesday I gave my culminating lesson about gentics. We followed two heritable traits in the children of an imaginary celebrity couple. I let the students pick and ended up with a cross between Tina Turner and Elton John. I found this laugh-out-loud funny but the students didn’t seem to get the irony. I asked two volunteers to the front of the room and designated one as a sperm and the other as an egg (this they found hilarious). Each got to pick the alleles (drawn as different colored genes on big paper chromosomes) at random and then we combined them. In case you were wondering, the imaginary love child of Elton and Tina could roll his tongue and did not have hemophilia.

So… now it’s just a waiting game. I leave for Xai Xai on December 9th. From there I will catch a chapa to my site and move in. In the meantime I am trying to see the bright sides of host family life (e.g. it’s temporary!) and squeeze in as much passearing as possible, though now that the sun has come out it can be oppressively hot and muggy.

P.S. Have no idea about the postal situation yet. I’ll e-mail my new mailing address when I get one, but it may be a little while.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hold on the mail for now

Just a note. Thank you all so much for the snail mail you have sent! I promise to reciprocate with some letters as soon as I get to my site, but it's been too hard to mail letters from the training village.
It means a lot to me to hear from home. However, since I will soon be leaving the training village please do not send anymore mail until I have my permanent address. I should get that address soon. Until then, any mail sent will likely just get stuck indefinitely at the Peace Corps headquarters.

The rains have come! (Getting ready to build an arc)

Ok… so I get what people mean when they talk about the rainy season. They don’t mean it rains more often. They mean it rains and doesn’t stop raining until there is no water left in the sky. It has been raining for about a week straight. Let me illustrate by describing my day yesterday:

I awoke feeling slightly damp, but I am luckier than some volunteers in that there is not water leaking directly onto my bed. There is, however, water leaking everywhere else. It turns out that tin roofs are not impermeable. The cement walls of my room are stained with big wet spots where the water is running down and there are little puddles on the floor at the base. I have had more cockroaches in my room since the rain started, but I don’t mind the company. They just scurry about and periodically turn on to their backs, curl up their little legs and dry up into little cockroach crisps.

When I walked out into the living room I had to be careful not to slip in the big puddles. Water dripped on my head as I walked to the bathroom which, ironically, was the only part of the house not leaking. The worst was to come when I went into the kitchen to cook my egg for breakfast and found a small lake. I stood barefoot in two inches of water while I prepared breakfast. We had to unplug our freezer so we would not get electrocuted. The stove, fortunately, is propane powered.

Having prepared breakfast and lunch and convinced my host mom that I did not need to bathe, I got dressed for school with the same dirty clothes I’ve been wearing all week (you can’t do laundry when it’s raining!). Under my skirt I wore sweatpants, anticipating the chilly draft through the broken windows of the secondary school where I’m teaching (more on Model School later). On top I layered several long sleeve shirts, a sweatshirt, jacket and raincoat. Once I was sufficiently bundled, I took a bucket of water and washed my nice leather shoes and put them in a plastic bag to carry with me. I then put on my glorious rubber boots. May I pause for a moment to thank the inventor of the rubber boot? Where would I be right now without my rubber boots? I dare not imagine! Let me explain.

I open my umbrella and walk out the door into the deluge. Soon I find myself mired in muck and must cautiously extricate my feet from the suction of mud without having it splatter all over my clothes. The neighbor watches me from her doorway and calls out “you’re going to fall!” Mozambicans are so encouraging…

“Yeeshhh… so much matopi!” I respond. Matopi is the xishangana word for mud and its three strong syllables (Mah –Toh – Pee!) can capture our contempt against the forces of nature so much better that the wimpy one syllable “mud.”

I continue to struggle through the matopi until I reach what was once a path and is now a raging river with waterfalls pouring out from the bamboo and threatening to wash me away if I set foot in them. I edge my way through the shallowest of the waters, again thanking God for rubber boots, and start climbing up a hill where water is leaping off the steep path in dozens of small cascades. When I make it out of the back end of the neighborhood, I cut up to the main street (the only paved road in town), hoping to catch a ride with the Peace Corps car that sometimes cruises around and picks up straggling volunteers. To my dismay, walking along the road did nothing but get me splashed by a car driving through a huge muddy puddle. I looked up to see the Peace Corps emblem speeding past.

So to those of you were envying me as you started hunkering down for winter, count your blessings! When the sun comes out again I will be sure to brag, but for the moment I am jealously remembering what it is like to hang up your wet socks next to the wood stove and warm your toes by the fire.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


As promised, here are some photos (finally!).

The only place I have found internet with a wide enough bandwidth to upload photos is in the capital city, so the next round of photos will have to wait until I am in Maputo again.

My bed with mosquito net
Me in my Project Puffin shirt and a capulana
Maura (aka Menina)
Mamá Joana and Menina

Ana (oldest host sister) and her son
Vovôs (grandmothers)

Hey look the mulungo can dance!

Mamá Joana, Me, Bernecia and tia, breaking it down

In a line, Bernecia is smiling

Mamá Joana presents a gift to Vovô

Vovô cuts the cake

Cake in the face

Extended host family members

Ana and me

Filó and cousins

Menina and Ortencia dressed up for Halloween






That's all for now. Next time I'll try and post some photos of the training village so you can get an idea of the surroundings.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hey all,
Thanks for the comments! I thought I'd respond to some of them.

So the "western" religious affliation of Mozambicans varies depending on the region of the country. The south is primarily Christian. Here in the training village we have Catholics, some very vocal Evangelist Christians and your typical low-key Protestants. Up in the northern provinces there is a large Muslim population, probably due to the influence of Tanzania and the history of Arab traders along the north coast.
Any western religion in Mozambique inevitably gets mixed with elements of the traditional beliefs. For example, I went to a Catholic mass to watch my host grandmother get baptized a few weekends ago. There were the typical Catholic prayers (in Portuguese) recited in unison, the communion, etc... but there was also celebratory dancing and singing with drums. They really love the whole incense thing and smoked the place out with it. It really felt African when, after my grandmother had the holy waters poured over her head, a few of the women let out a n'klulungwana (that loud oscillating cry where they roll their tongues).

A note on the Chikenocide... so the butterknife business is common practice here in the training village, but apparently other parts of the country have more humane ways of killing a chicken. I have heard that one swift cut with gardening shears will do the trick. Some people also have a way of breaking the neck first, but I'm not sure how that works. In any case I am not ready to kill a chicken and I don't plan on eating chicken if I can't kill it. I suppose my fish eating could be considered hypocritical, so I'm guilty there. I'm not catching my own fish.

As far as the weather, it seems to be either hot (sweat and blazing sun) or cold (yes, COLD! like sweatshirts and hats and warming your hands over the coal stove), with an occasional perfect day in between. Mountain weather. Apparently we're in the coldest part of the country. On Saturday I go north and inland. Supposedly it is HOT. I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Week five!

So I’m on week 5 of training. So far so good, but it definitely has its ups and downs. I think we’re all looking forward to being on our own for a number of reasons. Living with a host family is an irreplaceable learning experience but it is tiring to have someone tell you when to take a bath… tell you not to wear those shoes because there’s a speck of mud on them or that shirt because it has a wrinkle… inquire as to whether you’ve made a bowel movement… ask why you came home late after school… ask why you want to be in your room and not watching Brazilian soap operas with them… tell you not to sit on the veranda because it’s cold… tell you not to go to school because it’s muddy outside… you get the idea. It’s sweet to have people looking out for you but the lack of autonomy and personal space is starting to get to me.

I’m also looking forward to cooking my own food and not having to eat excessive amounts of carbohydrates in the form of white rice, sticky white glop (aka xima), and bread. We had a two day training session on how to make permaculture vegetable gardens and I plan on starting one as soon as I get to site. Turns out you can grow plenty of fresh produce right next to your home in just about any kind of environment. We’ll see how successful I am. Sigh… I’m already dreaming about pumpkins, beans, lemongrass, carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, fresh greens…
Excitement! Saturday I finally get to leave the training village and go on a 5 day visit to the site of a current Peace Corps Volunteer. I´m headed 5-8 hours north of where I am now - a looong chapa ride, but I am thrilled to have a change of scenery and to get a glimpse of “the real deal.” After that we have two weeks of model school (I finally get to teach in a real Mozambican classroom!) and then a week of wrapping things up and I’m off to my permanent site (will find out where on Thanksgiving day). It’s nice to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel but also nerve wracking to think I don’t have all that much time left to learn all I need to know.

P.S. Thanks for the snail mail! It totally makes my day. I got a letter from Grandma and three Halloween cards. It’s a little tricky sending mail back the other way, but I’ll try to do that soon.

P.P.S. Is anybody reading this blog? Write some comments.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween: did you see what the mulungos were wearing this weekend???

Yesterday we had a Halloween party for the trainees and their host siblings complete with costumes, candy, roasted marshmallows, limbo and the monster mash. Most Mozambicans have never heard of Halloween. Here’s a conversation I had with Filó (in Portuguese) trying to explain this strange holiday:

Me: “Filó, there’s a party on Saturday for Halloween.”
Filó : confused silence
Me: “It’s an American holiday. Halloween, do you know it?”
Filó: “Nooo…”
Me: “Well um, it’s a day where people pretend to be something they’re not. They wear make pretend costumes and they do Trick or Treat.”
Filó: silence
Me: “Trick or Treat… the kids go to the door of their neighbor and say ‘Trick or Treat.’ It’s like ‘if you don’t give me a sweet something bad will happen,’ but they always give the kid candy.”
Filó: “okaaayy…”
Me: “Sometimes the costumes are scary, like ghosts or monsters, but it’s for fun. There are haunted houses too.”
Filó: look of concern… “Haunted houses?”
Me: “Yeah! But they’re not really haunted, it’s just fun.”
Filó: “Do you believe in spirits?”
Me: “No, I don’t believe. Do you believe?”
Filó: “Yes.”
Me: “If I saw one I would believe.”
Filó: “Do you believe in God?”

If our training village didn’t already think we’re nuts then Halloween sealed the deal. My three year old host sister, a cousin, another trainee and I were all zebras. The idea came from a zebra-striped bed sheet I found in the market. We picked up other trainees on our way to the party at the other end of town. Alice had made a beautiful pair of fairy wings and matching frilly skirt out of a bed sheet. Her husband AJ was rocking the eighties spiked hair, a “Hester the Molester” mustache, aviator sunglasses and a sports coat. The zebras and 80’s man started walking but the fairy had forgotten her wand and ran home to grab it and catch up. At the sight of a white girl with wings running down the street the Mozambicans were, for once, left speechless. We then picked up a bunch of grapes (Joyce covered in green balloons), two lady bugs (Meaghann and host sister), and a landmine (Bao), and walked about a half mile down a muddy dirt road past the confused stares of Mozambicans out to “passear” on a Saturday night. They all thought AJ (80’s man) looked GREAT and at least one Mozambican told him, in all sincerity, that he was “chique de doer” (“looking so good it hurts!”).

An interesting cultural note…
Halloween is an exceptionally strange concept for Mozambicans because many of them believe in spirits in a very real way. Ancestor worship is still common practice, especially in the older generation. People believe that if they don’t offer food to their deceased relatives they will haunt them from the other side. If someone becomes ill or runs into some misfortune, you can blame it on a disgruntled ancestor seeking revenge. In Mozambique, haunted houses are no laughing matter.
The solution for disgruntled ancestor problems is to go to your local curandeiro (“witch doctor”). They do the potions, bone throwing, fortune telling and general health consulting. Oftentimes they will suggest you make an offering to a certain deceased relative or return to your “Fatherland” to pay a visit of respect. There are curandeiros here in the training village, but you wouldn’t know who they are. Their alter egos look like a typical Mozambican and they don’t have advertisements outside their homes. The villagers just know. The Peace Corps frowns on volunteers visiting curandeiros so all my knowledge of this will have to be second hand.

Friday, October 23, 2009


This blog is being written in real time. Mozambican time that is. It’s 17:20 and I’m somehow the only one at the internet café. We had an easier than normal day today. After giving more 20 minute practice Biology lessons (in Portuguese, of course!), we gathered with our language learning groups and our host moms + various other female relatives to have a cooking lesson. We made matapa, a traditional dish of Mozambique. The coconuts had to be cracked open then scraped out on a bench with a built-in coconut scraper (essential in every Moz kitchen). The peanuts and rice had to be pounded into flour. The cove and nganha (leafy greens) had to be chopped up with dull knives. All the knives here are dull as a rule. This fact made the other task (the killing of the chickens) to be particularly traumatic. (The following description is not for the faint of heart. You may wish to skip it).

I abstained on the grounds that I wasn’t going to eat the chicken, but the other girls in our group had to participate. I made myself busy cracking open a coconut but could hear the screams (not sure which came from the girls and which from the chickens). One girl started cutting with her eyes closed (bad start) and another from our group took over. The knife was so dull that she had to saw away for quite a while before the jugular was severed. To top it all off, one of the host mothers took the chicken’s severed head and used its feathers to wipe the spattered blood off the poor girl’s bare feet. Yeah… happy to be a vegetarian today. I did my part after the killing by helping to pluck the chicken (not an easy task let me tell you).

(Ok, rated G again now).
We made coconut milk from the coconut shavings and cooked it with the peanut-rice flour, cove or nganha, and onions and tomatoes to make a delicious sauce that we put over chima (paste made of millet flour). This was served along with the chicken for a great feast. I definitely ate too much.

I had more to say, but I am slightly distracted by the odd entreaties by the Mozambican man who decided to waltz in here and practice his English with me. “Hello baby, hello baby, hello baby, you not want practice English with me because you are work?” I like to help people with their English, but not if the request begins with “hello baby.”

What else… I am starting to feel more at home with my host family. They love the fact that I wear a capulana around the house now (I bought two beautiful ones at the market on Wendesday for 150 Metacais). “You are a real Mozambican now!” was the response of Mamá Joana. It made me feel pretty good. I think I’m going to have the other capulana made into a skirt at the local tailor. I'm also earning points by tossing out the random phrases of xishangana that I pick up here and there. The following phrase is useful for the village children: "A vitho dzanga hi Clancy, ani mulungo!" ("My name is Clancy, not white person!"). The kids in my neighborhood now shout "Clancia Clancia!" instead of "mulungo mulungo!" When you don't want to be bothered you can say "nita cugumula!" ("I'm going to bite you!") and they'll run away giggling and/or screaming.

We’re moving up to 45 minute practice lessons next week. Pretty soon we’ll start model school in a real Moz classroom. I definitely have a lot to learn about being a teacher, but I’m loving it so far! It’s challenging (especially in Portuguese), but it gets me charged up. To any of you teachers out there who are reading this: I’d love some advice! - especially from any Biology teachers who have ideas for activities/demonstrations I can do in the classroom that don’t require a lot of resources.

That’s all for now. Thank you for the e-mails! Keep them coming. I read them.

Salani! Tchau! Bye!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

I am alive and well and Mozambique is awesome!

Djishili! Bom Dia a todos! Greetings from Mozambique!
(Mashangana, Portuguese, English)

(Note: I wrote this blog ahead of time so I could post it in my 15 minutes of internet time!)

I have been here for two weeks now, but it feels like months. Time slows down when everything is new and different. Each moment is significant and your brain works hard to process it all. Already though, I’m starting to settle in and get into the rhythm of life here.

At the moment it’s 18:17 and starting to get dark but kids are still hollering and running around outside. Earlier I was sitting on our veranda enjoying the evening breeze and the perfect temperature. You earn evenings like that after a long hot day. It’s peaceful … sort of. Once you get past the techno music blasting from the neighbor’s house, you can still hear the chickens cluck, the evening birds sing, the coal fire crackle and the wind move the leaves in the banana and papaya trees.

Mamá Joana was cooking “cove” over a coal stove and Filó was twisting her hair into dreads. Earlier, Filó showed me how to grind rice and peanuts into flour using a giant wooden mortar and a pestle that takes two hands to wield. She taught me to toss the dry mixture in a shallow woven basket to separate the ground-up part from the rest. We then cracked a coconut on a rock and scraped out the white flesh using a serrated spoon attached to a footstool. Mamá and Filó got a kick out of watching me struggle at all of the aforementioned activities. It’s not easy, but I started to figure it out.

They also find it hilarious to watch me try to wash my clothes in buckets. It’s something I’ve done before, but not the “Mozambican way,” which is always very particular. If I don’t turn my shirt inside out before hanging it up, for example, Mamá starts laughing then comes over to show me how to do it “right.” Washing the floors the “Mozambican way” is another interesting experience. It involves a bucket of soapy water and a rag that you wipe across the floor from one corner to the other. You bend over the whole time. Seeing as Mozambican women wash the floors every morning I don’t know how they don’t all have hunchbacks. Maybe their posture is corrected by carrying giant jugs of water on their heads. The women must carry it to their homes from the village fountain since there is no running water.

I wish I could spend more time with my host family, but training goes all day. I wake up early to run when I can (not often) and get home in time to take my morning bucket bath, eat breakfast, pack a lunch and hit the “road” (i.e. the winding dirt paths that lead into town). We have language classes in the morning, technical training midday, then more language classes in the afternoon. By the time classes get out I only have 2 or so hours of daylight left. When I come home I take another bath, help out with dinner, and then chill with Mamá, Filó and “a menina” (“the girl,” as they call my 3 year old sister). The regular evening activity is watching steamy Brazilian soap operas. Sequestering in my room is rude, but sometimes I have to get away from the constant television noise to plan my lessons and do my Portuguese homework.

Lessons! We are already giving mini Biology lessons in Portuguese. At the moment we are just practicing with each other, but in a few weeks we will start “model classroom” where we get to teach Mozambican students in the local secondary school. I’m amazed at how much Portuguese I am already speaking. The learning curve is steep when you are totally immersed.

It’s now 19:32. I took a break from writing this entry to eat way too much “cove.” I can say it’s better than most of the food I’ve been eating. My digestive system doesn’t do well on a diet heavy with rice, potatoes, pasta, bread, and “shima” (sticky grits made from millet). Mamá and I have had frequent discussions about nutrition and now fruits and vegetables are starting to find their way into my diet (and theirs too!). I have compromised my vegetarianism enough to start eating fish here as a necessary source of protein. One can only eat so many deep-fried eggs.

Now I’m sitting under my mosquito net on my bed. There are geckos on my bedroom walls and crickets singing in the rafters. When I went out to the outhouse I could see Southern Hemisphere stars. On my way back I saw the brilliant green light of a glow worm. There are neat creatures here, especially lizards. Some of them have bright blue heads.

Now I’m just rambling so I’ll save the rest for a future blog entry.

Overall conclusion: I am alive and well and Mozambique is awesome!

The favorite greeting here is “tudo bem?” (“all well?”). I hope the answer for all of you is a resounding “tudo bem!!” This has been my cheerful response to the friendly greetings of all my neighbors here in Mozambique. Stay tuned and keep in touch!


P.S. Photos to come later. I haven’t taken any yet, but I will.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Off to the village

What's it like so far? Well, we have been staying in a swanky hotel in the capital for the last two days and have not been allowed to leave the premises, so I don't feel like I am really in Mozambique yet. My arms are sore from vaccinations and I think there are more to come. I started my malaria medication (Larium) last night and had some funky dreams, but no major side effects. We have had lots of info sessions and Q&A's with volunteers. It seems like it's going to be the real deal. Nothing cushy about it.

Enough of this luxury hotel business. Today I'll get to meet my host family, learn to take a bucket bath, eat some Mozambican cuisine, go to the market, set up my water filter and mosquito net, and do all of the other various "settling in" activities. It's going to be interesting, especially with the communication barrier. I can't wait and I'm sure I will have some crazy crazy stories to report the next time I can post on my blog.

Please not that I will have VERY limited access to communications, so it may be a week or more before I can contact home or post on this blog.

Also, please do not worry. I am being extremely well cared for. The Peace Corps Mozambique staff have everything figured out. All is well organized and they are super concerned with my health and well being. Our host families have been trained on how to care for us during our adjustment to life here and we have staff living in our neighborhoods within walking distance. In addition, we will all be getting cell phones and have cards with the phone numbers of all relevant Peace Corps staff (directors, medical officers, etc...).

Anyway here goes! I am keeping a good sense of humor and am expecting some fun and hilarious situations in the next few weeks. Stay tuned.

Friday, October 2, 2009

In Mozambique

I'm in Mozambique! We arrived in Maputo yesterday and are staying in a swanky hotel for three days - hot showers, yummy buffet food, etc... This will all change shortly when we are transported to our training village, but we're enjoying the opportunity to recover from jet lag in luxury.

So far we have had various meetings where they tell us about the uncomfortable realities of life and at the same time encourage us with all the rewards of being a PCV here - the warm and welcoming people, the great food, the beautiful landscape... I think there will be more of this breaking down and building up in the weeks ahead.

My upper arms are a bit sore from the vaccinations, but other than that I feel great. I received my malaria medication (Larium) and various manuals about health, training, etc... We met all of our training staff - Portuguese teachers, education teachers, support staff, etc... It takes a lot of people to train 65 future Peace Corps volunteers.

I just had my language exam, which consisted of a Mozambican speaking to me in Portuguese and seeing if my responses (also in Portuguese) had any relevance to the questions he was asking. I think I did well, though I didn't understand what he was saying when he said "parabens" ("good job"), so I have to wonder. In any case, we're about to jump into intensive language training so I will learn Portuguese soon enough!

I may not be able to blog for a while once we get to our training village, but I will share some fun stories when I can.

A bit nervous, but still excited and feeling good. Can't wait to meet my host families, take a bucket shower, eat/learn to cook Mozambican food, speak Portuguese, practice teaching and make new friends!

Take care!

The view from my hotel room balcony - Maputo skyline & bay

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The adventure begins!

So... I'm in Philadelphia with the 64 other Peace Corps Trainees headed to Mozambique. We are a large group! We leave tomorrow at 2:30 AM for a 15 hour flight to Johannesburg, South Africa and then a 1 hour connection to Maputo, Mozambique. The first three days we'll be staying in a 4 star hotel in the capital city. After that, we go to a small village about 2 hours outside of the capital where we will live with host families for ten weeks of intensive training. Training ends Dec 11th with the official swearing in ceremony, at which point I will be sent to my assignment location somewhere in the vast country of Mozambique!

That's the plan. Here's my mailing address at the Peace Corps headquarters. I'll have a different mailing address after Dec 11.

Clancy Brown, PCT
Corpo da Paz
Av. do Zimbabwe No 345
Maputo, Mozambique

Letters and packages would be much appreciated! E-mails would be nice too (

Tips on helping packages arrive untampered with:
*Write "Jesus Saves" on the package. Christian iconography (crosses, etc...) helps too.
* Undervalue the contents by a lot (otherwise I'll have to pay a lot to receive it, plus you don't want it to seem valuable)
* Lie about the contents. Call them "education materials," "school supplies," "religious books and tapes," etc...

Thanks for the many well wishes I have already received. It means a lot to know that there are so many people back home who love and support me.

And now, the adventure begins!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


I have to fit 2 years worth of stuff in that?? They don't let you bring much. I managed to fit it "all" into a few bags and made the weight limit. We'll find out what I forgot when I get there!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Getting ready, sort of...

Time to departure: 16 days... I keep saying "it's so soon; I can't believe I'm leaving at the end of this month; I need more time!" but then my friends remind me that, actually, I have been anticipating this for over a year now.

This summer has been an absolute whirlwind, and I can't say that I've spent my time "getting ready" per se, but really it has just been a different kind of preparation.

In fact, this whole year has been a headspinning adventure. I studied abroad in Ecuador and Peru my last semester of college and returned to the States just in time to graduate. Then literally two days later I left on a second, month-long study abroad to Lake Baikal in Siberia. You'd think I'd want to stick around after all that, but I was home just a few weeks before being ferried out to Matinicus Rock, 20 miles off the Maine coast, where I lived for three weeks volunteering with Project Puffin (banding baby birds and such).

Since that last adventure, I have been trying to spend quality time with my friends and family, which has led me to Boston, New York City and elsewhere. Luckily some friends also made the trip to Kennebunk.

To add some glorious complexity to the mix, I met an amazing guy on the island and we have been dating for the last two months. Whatever happens, I can say it was worth it to "get involved" despite my impending exodus. As they say, "life happens while you're busy making other plans..."

In between the craziness I have been trying to learn Portuguese (the official language of Mozambique and what I will be expected to teach in), read books about pedagogy and Africa, and budget enough money to buy all the missing items on my packing list.

Mozambique seems like just the next stage in this great oddyssey, but then it hits me... 2 YEARS! This is something entirely different. Not a vacation, not a study abroad, not school... I will be living and working there. Mozambique will become my new home.

There was a time a few weeks ago when I seriously considered calling the whole thing off. Call it butterflies, stage fright, whatever... I freaked a little, but now I'm back on track and getting super excited.

I don't know what to expect. In fact, I'm trying very hard not to have any expectations. I'm just going to show up, see what happens and enjoy the ride.