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!