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