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.


  1. A Mango Analogy:

    Whe I think of the sweet mango juice mixing with the dirt, sweat, and heat on your face and hands, it presents a picture of the sweetness of achieving something worthwhile in difficult conditions. If it wasn't for the mango (the prize), the rest of it would be insufferable. The mango is the beauty of being in step with your world. It is the essential nourishment for life. But mangos can't work their full magic if selfishly enjoyed. Your mangos were a gift from a stranger, which you then passed on to another stranger, nourished yourself with, and then shared with a friend thereby spreading the mango's sweetness to many others. When we reap some fruit from this world, it does little good unless it is passed on. After that happens, who knows how far it can go? Perhaps that one mango will nourish the world!

  2. Hi Clancy, Merry Christmas. I have been reading your blog for a while. What great stories. What a courageous adventure. Not sure I have a mango analogy but will work on it!!! thanks, Mark Gunter