Thursday, February 11, 2010

Second Year!!

I went home for the month of December hoping to feel refreshed and rejuvenated for my second year as a Peace Corps volunteer. The eve of my departure I felt dread. I didn’t want to go back! I had been reminded of how easy life could be. I want a coffee? There are 3 Starbucks on the same block. I need some cereal? An entire aisle is dedicated to it in Safeway. The aisle is next to the Safeway Starbucks. I could drink a latte while I picked out my cereal. I had forgotten how it felt to have so many choices! I blended into crowds. I could walk down the street and no one would give me a second glance. That may sound like an odd thing to miss, but when you stick out like a sore thumb everywhere you go for 14 months a little anonymity is nice for a change.

After finally arriving in Mozambique, however, it felt like I had never left. Just like my transition home, which I had worried about, my return to Moz felt natural. Mozambique is surely where I’m meant to be. My smooth shift back into life in Africa came as a huge comfort. I had a few obstacles to deal with…my house being broken into with a huge hole in the wall, being pick-pocketed and my electricity being turned off, for example…but after living the easy life for 5 weeks in Oregon, those problems seemed justified. Everything is back to normal and I’m happy to be back.

Almost immediately after getting back to Mozambique, I returned to Maputo for our mid-service conference. All of the volunteers from my group, Moz13, came to Maputo for medical work and some further training. I got to see volunteers that I hadn’t seen since we left training. Some people had just returned from visiting home, like myself, and others spent December traveling Africa. It was great to catch up with people.

We had a session led by Todd Chapman, Mozambique’s charge d’affairs officer. As always, his talk was an inspiration to us. He said that Peace Corps volunteers are the best ambassadors and reminded us of just how important our work is. It’s very easy to lose sight of our “big picture” goals while we live our day-to-day lives. Todd also had some information about the recent presidential election that took place in Mozambique. Frelimo, as predicted, won again. Armando Emilio Guebuza is still the president of Mozambique. Frelimo’s victory is thought to be questionable and, as such, the United States Government no longer recognizes Mozambique as an electoral democracy. That has created some tension between the Mozambican government and the U.S. America states that they are simply promoting a “competition of ideas.” During the election, the Minister of Education got promoted to Prime Minister. There has always been heavy teacher involvement in the political process, but it’s increasing. Other volunteers shared stories that their colleagues are being transferred or losing their jobs if they didn’t participate enough in the October election. Chapman said, “The opposition’s voice is like a pressure valve. You must open it so they can let off steam. If not, it’ll explode.” I thought this was a good analogy, especially with things occurring in United States politics at the moment. It’s an incredibly interesting political time in Mozambique. If anyone is interested in having some more information on the political situation in Mozambique, I know there have been articles in the NY Times you can search for. Check, too.

I’m teaching 8th and 9th grade this year. I have 6 classes: 2 of eighth grade, 4 of ninth. I have many of my students from last year and that makes me really happy. My average class size is about 80 students and it’ll only get larger. The first trimester is pretty informal because students are still petitioning to be enrolled in the school year. Things don’t get serious until the second trimester, which begins in April. I have classes in the afternoon so I get to spend time with teachers that I didn’t have an opportunity to get to know last year because I taught in the morning. So this year is full of changes! It’s already going by quickly.

On the home front: nothing too exciting! A few rats tried to move into my house the other night but I promptly poisoned them, haha. I’m going to try, yet again, to get a cat that will keep the rats at bay! It’s REALLY hot here. January and February are the hottest months in Moz. Last weekend I had my first beach trip since returning and it was great! I got a sunburn that redefines the color red, but it’s healing nicely J.

As always, I hope everyone is doing well and I miss you all!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Picture update!

Mango grove in Namaacha during training!
Barra Lodge...
On the left is my shower hut, right is the latrine. Pretty fancy that they're separate.
My pretty yard! Obviously the grass needed to be cut.
A family boarding the boat to travel from Morrumbene to the beach of Linga linga. It's about a 2 hour ride through mangroves. Really pretty.
View from my site!

My school :)
New latrine!! Very exciting.

Main road in Morrumbene. I get a great leg workout with all the sand!

Doing the end of year grades...ugh!

Some students after a trivia game.

Beira, Sofala in Mozambique. Beautiful sunset!

Ok, I have vowed to be more on top of my blog for my second and last year of service! While I'm still at home I'd like to upload all of the photos I've taken thus far, but I'll have to do it in stages. Hope you all enjoy! Happy New Year!!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A year later...

On October 2nd I celebrated one year in Mozambique by returning to the place of my training, Namaacha, and welcoming the new group of Moz 14 trainees. Talk about coming full circle! Seeing all 66 of their "what-the-deuce-am-I-doing" faces, hearing their questions and their voiced concerns of learning Portuguese quickly was an intense deja-vu for me. This year has been both the slowest and fastest year of my life with the steepest learning curve I've ever experienced! I couldn't help but feel incredibly grateful that I was not in their place again. Training still remains the most difficult part of my Peace Corps service thus far. Well, maybe I shouldn't say that. Being at site certainly didn't cure off of my just brought along a new, different set, haha. Overall, though, it feels good to finally feel comfortable here. I speak Portuguese, I know (mais ou menos) what to expect from Mozambique and that is certainly preferably to not having any idea what is going on or being said around me. I still can't quite grasp that I'm half way through my service. I've finished with my first year of teaching and that feels like the biggest accomplishment of all. I look forward to starting again next year because I'll actually know what's going on! I was warned that the first year of service for a Peace Corps volunteer can end in frustration because you usually don't feel like you've accomplished anything- and it's true in my case. I've learned so much more about myself and FOR myself than I feel that I've given. I guess that's what the second year is for, though. :) This year has been full of so many ups and downs, a verifiably roller-coaster of emotions. I've learned that the saying "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" could not be more true. I questioned my ability to fulfill 27 months of service more than once, and I'm sure I'll continue to question it up until I leave. That I have one year under my belt gives me an undeniable sense of accomplishment, however. Peace Corps is indeed the hardest job you'll ever love!!
It's an exciting time to be in Mozambique at the moment. Presidential elections are happening October 28th and it's impossible to escape the campaigning of Frelimo, Renamo and MDM (Movimento Democratico de Mozambique). Frelimo is the current party in office with President Armando Guebuza. This is the first election where there are more than 2 leading parties. MDM is gaining popularity while past elections were basically between Frelimo and Renamo. Definitely and interesting time to watch the progression of Democracy. Here's a conversation I had with some fellow teachers a few weeks ago:

Teacher: "In America, if you are not a part of the ruling political party, can you still work?"
Me: "Like, if the president was Republican and I was a Democrat, could I still get a job?"
Teacher: "Yes, exactly."
Me: "Hahaha, yes, of course! In the states, your political affiliations are private. You don't have to disclose your political preferences before you work somewhere."
Teacher: "Even as a teacher?"
Me: "Of course."
Teacher: "That's not how it is here."
Me: "What do you mean?"
Teacher: "Mozambique is a democracy...but we are still working towards acting democratically."
Just another mini-lesson in how lucky we are to be born American...

Here are some interesting statistics about Mozambique that I was given during an HIV and Moz information session:

* 21 million population (2009)
* 54% of people live below poverty level (~10 USD/month)
* 33% of men and 63% of women are illiterate
* 50-60% of the population has no access to health care
* Mozambique HIV prevalence was 16% of adults (2007)
* Southern Mozambique prevalence 21% (highest in country)
* 75% of HIV positive women in the world are in Sub-Saharian Africa
* 2% of women and 3% of men aged 15-49 had and HIV test AND received the results in the last year (2003)
* About 32% of HIV positive pregnant women received ARV's for PMTCT
* Mozambique is one of the 10 countries mostly affected by HIV in the world
* By 2009, 96.3 million people died from AIDS (21.4 million ages 1-14)

I thought that might be interesting to's amazing how many of the false rumors about how HIV is transmitted are still spread and believed among Mozambicans. A fellow volunteer who is still close with their host family has been trying to teach the kids about safe sex and the truth about HIV. Then the older host brother returned home from working in South Africa and told the younger siblings about how "white people" put the HIV into the condoms... and the kids believed him. All the work and effort that this volunteer put into their family was disregarded. Students in my classes told me that HIV is transmitted via mosquitos, that virgins can't get HIV the first time they have sex...there's still so much work to be done against this epidemic. While incidences of HIV are leveling off in both central and northern Moz, they are still on the rise in the South. There are many contributing factors to this, but the close proximity of both Swaziland and South Africa are certainly prominent reasons. I read a book called "The Invisible Cure" before coming here and I've found that a lot of the topics discussed in it are incredibly accurate. I can't remember the author's name...but if you have any interest in learning more about the HIV epidemic in sub-saharian Africa then that's definitely a great book to read! I'm planning on re-reading it when I'm home in December.

Como sempre, espero que todos nos Estados Unidos estao bem na vida e na saude. Beijos!! Ate ja!!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Before coming to Mozambique, I often heard from people how much I was going to change. I was going to "come back a different person." I didn't like hearing it. I liked who I was so why would I want to come back different? The idea of leaving my home for a foreign place and knowing that I was going to "change" was incredibly unnerving. It seemed that only crazy people would volunteer to be the outsider everywhere they went, battle cockroaches and rats, shower outside with a bucket and cup and...relieve...oneself into a pit that your dog insists on digging up every week. Why would a person choose this way of life? Why would a person choose to change, not knowing what that change would entail? I questioned my decision before my departure. When I finally got on the plane headed to Philadelphia it was mostly out of sheer stubbornness. I could never have anticipated, no one could, what I was flying myself into. I have had my ups and downs, as have all volunteers, but I cannot deny how much I have truly changed. The most surprising part is the ways I have changed.
I was an anti-America American. I was so judgmental of the U.S. government, our President (at the time) and how all Americans seemed to take what they had for granted. I had always thought that I knew just how lucky I was to grow up in America. I was aware of my good fortune at being able to go to college, to have a nice home, to have parents who were always there for me, no matter how often I screwed up. I knew all that. Rather, I thought I did. My appreciation for these things has grown ten-fold, and I also know that there is so much more that I hadn't even realized I was so fortunate to have.
The education system in the United States is great. Elementary through high school, kids have the chance for a free education, books provided that encourage active learning and free thinking. There are teachers that bring their classroom worries home with them because they care about their students. Who spend hours outside of the classroom, during their free time, to plan lessons, grade homework and think of new and creative ways to teach. I know this first hand from living with Gail. I took 16 years of education for granted, never recognizing- never thinking- that this was not how it was everywhere in the world. Those opportunities are not offered to everyone. And while I find it odd that moving to another country is what made me patriotic, I hope that I never forget how truly lucky we are. I don't want to take that for granted again.
About 2 months ago, the director of my school (like the principal) told me that there was a problem with one of the students in the class that I am director of. She said that "number 34" (students are mostly referred to by number) did not know how to write. I had noticed that Joana wasn't doing well on her English test, but I assumed that it was the English language that was confusing her. When I talked to her about her ability to write she admitted that she had never known how to write or read. I asked her if her parents could give her lessons in the afternoon so that she could learn and thus pass 8th grade, but she lives with her aunt who also does not know how to read or write. I offered to give her writing lessons after school. It took us a while to get a consistent schedule going, but we're now doing lessons 3 times a week. Honestly, I'm not entirely sure how to teach someone to read or write in Portuguese, but hopefully after 2 years she can make some progress.
I've gotten my journalism group going as well! I've got a core group of students that are very dedicated and talented. One student in particular, Ernao, is taking the group very seriously. He's always encouraging the other kids, telling them "don't try, do." I've given him the "editor" position. They've written about 6 articles, are doing interviews and are practicing their writing skills. We're going to produce the newspaper the first week of 3rd trimester. I'm asking around for students that are interested in displaying their art, too.
Things are going well here in Mozambique. I'm approaching the end of my second trimester of teaching. Next week are the trimester finals, followed by grading and then I get a week vacation! Third trimester, rumor has it, is going to be a weird time for teaching. Presidential elections are happening at the end of October here and I guess school kind of gets put on hold during that time. Mozambique is definitely still a democracy in progress, but at least it's working towards it! Three weeks ago the governor of Inhambane province came to my school to visit. A week after that the bishop of the Catholic church of Mozambique came. I've also met the first lady of's all very exciting.
The dog that was left to me, Lucy, gave birth to 7 puppies about a month ago. They are incredibly adorable and a lot of fun to have around. I currently have 9 dogs in my yard...but once they get older I'll be able to give them away.
As always, I hope all is well back home. I miss you very much and can't wait to see you all in December!
PS. Sorry for no pictures! I'll try to upload some next time :)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hi all! All is well here in Mozambique. I finished up with my first trimester of teaching 2 weeks ago (YAY!) and that was quite the learning was very frustrating to be a part of the test giving and grading because I had no idea what I was doing! I had to pester my fellow teachers to explain. Eventually, I got the hang of it. It just makes me all the more excited for second trimester because I'll know what we're supposed to be doing. We had 2 weeks of "vacation" that wasn't really vacation at all...the first week we were doing grades. This involves the directors of turma getting together and exchanging grades. For example, I'm director of turma 8-10 (eight grade, group 10), so I had to collect all of the students grades for every subject (chemistry, physics, biology, math, Portuguese, history, English, physical education and geography). All of our grades are recorded by hand on charted paper. I then had to transfer all of their grades onto a huge piece of paper called a "pauta." It's about the size of A4 paper in the states. After all of 8-10 grades were recorded the fun part began. I had to figure out how many males passed, how many females passed, how many males/females failed, how many scored between 0-4, 5-9. 10-13, 14-15, 16-17, 18-20. Then I had to figure out the percentages for all of these. 60% of my turma did not pass the trimester...not really too shocking considering their course load. Anyway, I learned a lot that week and I must say it's my least favorite week of the school year. Well, that and controlling the ACP (trimester finals). That was pretty awful. I had to control the turma that I'm director of and they all cheated so much...I think I took it personally because I'm closer to that turma than my others so every time I caught them cheating (I caught the same student cheating 3 different times in ONE test) I felt like they were deceiving me directly. I obviously can't take that approach next time- much too stressful.
During the last week of break I was helping out at a Peace Corps conference with the groups REDES and JOMA. These are groups started by Peace Corps volunteers that are throughout Mozambique. REDES, which stands for Raparigas em Desenvolvimento, Educacao e Saude (Young Girls in Development, Education and Health) is just for young girls. It's about gender equality, dealing with gender issues, and HIV/AIDS awareness. The girls made dolls for orphans, baked cake, we discussed their relationships, safe sex, etc. JOMA is, now, for boys and girls. This was the first year that girls were allowed at the conference. The JOMA groups are journalism, photography, theater and art. The focus is also on HIV/AIDS and gender equality. JOMA stands for Jovens para Mudanca e Accao (Kids for Change and Action). It was a really fun experience and I plan on being more involved with the programs this coming year. I'm trying to start a journalism group at my school so we would have a school newspaper! I'm also doing an English club which is going pretty well. Some of the teachers at my school are coming to the meetings. :)
I have my computer now (thanks, Mom!!) so that has made my life SO much easier. I've made spreadsheets for all my turmas and that makes grading a lot more simple. It's also nice to have ways to take other peoples music and movies...I was getting a little tired of reading. There's Peace Corps software that helps with grading, class schedules and learning local dialects so that's been really nice.
I had quite a scare 2 weeks ago...someone tried to break into my house...when I was home. As my Dad can testify, I was a wee bit freaked out (that's a lie- I was INCREDIBLY freaked out). The guy tried to just open my door! I blew my air horn and yelled out, in Portuguese, that I had a gun and was calling the police. He continued to loiter around my yard for a couple hours. I finally went to sleep around 23:00 and when I woke up and examined my yard I saw that he had tried to get in my bedroom window after I had gone to sleep. Very creepy. I haven't had any incidents since then, though. I sleep with my air horn tucked under my pillow now and my front door is always locked even if it's midday. So, no worries.
Oh! Some random tid-bits of information: I saw a wild monkey last week! My first since arriving in Africa. It was running across the road as I was riding in a crazy safari jeep. Very cute! Also, as I'm sure most of you already know, my WONDERFUL Dad and LOVELY Gail are flying me home for Christmas 2009. I'm excited to come home and recharge before my second year.
Ok, well I'm signing off. Please keep writing (or start)! I miss you all very much and hope all is well back home.
Beijos! Tchau.
redes 22.jpg

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Hello!! I am currently at a super swank hotel in the capital of Mozambique (Maputo) for inservice training. It was mind boggling to arrive! I was delivered to my room in a golf cart, I have air conditioning and the food is AMAZING. I will be here until Sunday...then it will be a rough adjustment back to site, haha. Anyway, my daily life is much less glamorous, but much more fulfilling (most days). My school has a relatively small number of classrooms, but all classes are divided into morning, afternoon and evening so that hasn't been a huge problem. The classrooms don't have windows or doors, but that just means you always have a nice breeze while you teach! There are about 40 teachers at my school. They all have been very nice and helpful. I'm still amazed by how young they all seem! It leads to a light-hearted and laughter filled atmosphere to work in. I am one of 4 English teachers. As I said in my last post, I teach 8th grade English at the Escola Secondaria de Morrumbene. By 8th grade the students have been studying English for 2 years. On my first day of teaching, however, I had to do the alphabet. My frustration is not with the students, but with past teachers. Or maybe a mixture of both. There are obviously some students that put more of an effort into their education than others (just like in America) and I can easily understand how learning English can be on the back burner compared to other challenges and duties my students face on a daily basis. My daily routine is, mais ou menos, as follows: I wake up at 5am (I teach only in the mornings Monday through Friday so I have to arrive at the school by 6:45 but I am done with teaching by noon each day), I heat up water for my ricoffe (a coffee and chickory blend that I have grown to loathe with a passion that I did not know I could possess) and I partake in some high fiber kellogs cereal that, I think, has saved my life/digestive track since I discovered it. I make breakfast for my dog, Lucy, which consists of white rice and dried fish or shrimp. I make sure that I have all my materials that I will need for my lessons that day (maybe visuals, a hacky sack to throw around to practice conjugation, and my lesson plan notebook), put on my bata (a long, white, polyester lab coat that I have to wear everyday to teach in. It is incredibly warm and makes me sweat buckets, but it's uniform) and then I'm on my way! The school is only about an 8 minute walk from my house. I'm always the first teacher to arrive, which I don't mind at all. At 6:45 the cow bell is rung to signal the students to line up in order of turma in front of the school while we raise the flag and sing the Mozambican anthem. It's always a process to get the students organized, and if it's raining we don't sing. At 7am the cow bell is rung again meaning that the students should be in class and ready to learn. Lessons are 45 minutes, but the cow bell never rings at the exact time to signal the starting or ending of a lesson each day. My busiest day is Tuesday- I teach 2 lessons, then have the "turma meeting" (I'm director of turma and we have to hold meetings once a week where the students can complain to me about any absences they may have received or problems that might be having with other teachers). After that, I teach 3 more lessons back to back. This may not sound like a lot because I'm still done by 11:55, but it is so exhausting to maintain such a high energy for 5 lessons! Noon is the "siesta" time so most shops in Morrumbene are closed anyway. They reopen at 2, and that's when I go out and buy my vegetables, fruit and bread for my lunch and dinner. I'll plan my lesson for the following day, grade any homework I collected and walk around my community. If the weather is nice I might wash my clothes. I am usually in bed around 8pm...Africa has turned me into an old woman! My life isn't too terribly exciting, but I'm starting to enjoy the slow pace of Mozambique more and more. In the states I had to become a master multi-tasker. Always juggling 2-3 things at once, especially in college. Mozambique is just not a place to multi-task. Things just move a lot slower here, and I certainly don't view that as a bad thing (most of the time) but it has definitely been an adjustment. I'm slowly learning to draw out my daily activities after teaching so I'm not too terribly bored for the rest of the day. At night, I've taken to watching the geckos hunt on my ceiling for entertainment. Like I said, life moves a little bit slower in Mozambique. Unless, of course, you are riding in a chapa. I know I have mentioned the infamous chapa before, but I think it's time to describe it in greater detail. the chapa is my only form of transportation (unless I hitchhike, which I do, on occasion. It's much easier to do here than in the states and I plan on traveling to northern Mozambique at some point in my service only by hitch hiking. Should be fun!). Chapas are about the size of the old VW vans and are usually worse for wear. I've ridden in many where I could see the road through the floor or the door fell off every time it was opened. There are 4 rows of seats in the chapa, meant to sit 3 people in each row, plus space for 2 people in the front next to the driver. In all, the chapa is supposed to hold about 15 people. This NEVER happens. There are always, at minimum, 20 people in the chapa- usually 24-25. The chapa will not leave until there are at least 4 people sitting in each row, so I spend quite a bit of time just waiting for it to fill up. I have yet to ride in one that has left before it was full. It doesn't matter if you have to wait for an hour. Even after it gets going, the driver still stops along the road to pick up people in random areas. So, you get the idea that people are crammed like sardines in the less than up-to-code van (oh, if you were wondering, the idea of seatbelts is laughable. I think I've worn a seatbelt once since arriving in Mozambique). On top of the 20-some odd people, you have their "stuff." Jugs of water, bags of who knows what, blankets, babies, chickens (alive, noisy, and pooping) and even the occasional goat. I was on a 4 hour chapa ride a few weeks ago where we kept stopping every 10 minutes to pick up random stashes of 2x4's that were hidden along the road. It is not uncommon, especially on longer trips, for people to be getting drunk en route. And driving! It is acceptable to pass another car on any kind of road, at any speed and without any real regard for how close oncoming traffic is. I've very often thought "This will be my last chapa ride," but I keep surviving. I've actually grown to like the chapa experience, and if any of you visit, you'll have to go on one. A few months ago, I went on a 10 hour bus ride (larger bus than a chapa, called a machimbombo-that might be incredibly incorrect spelling-but just as packed). Every time we stopped the engine died and people would get out to start pushing the bus along the road until the driver could get it going. All chapas slow down significantly when going up hill and greatly accelerate when going down. It's a real adventure and quite a unique experience. I am learning the tricks of the trade to living in Africa...for example, it's important to keep your skin moisturized (especially your feet because there are many little critters that can crawl in through cracks in your feet). Unfortunately, lotion literally melts off you once you start walking. It VISIBLY melts off. I quickly learned that it's much more practical to put lotion on at night, in front of the fan and underneath the mosquito net. This may seem silly and probably not worth mentioning, but my life is now full of these weird lessons that I could have never anticipated before coming here. I've also learned that it's vital to keep a flashlight near you at all times. Electricity cannot be described as reliable. I've come to terms with the spiders, ants, roaches, mosquitos, geckos, rats and large flying insects that sound like wind up toys that I share my house with- but I'm still working on accepting the snakes that live in the rafters of my ceiling. It's never too quiet because coconuts and large seed pods are always falling on my tin roof. It still makes me jump every time...especially when I'm sleeping. Living by myself has been a huge challenge sometimes and it is very easy to feel incredibly lonely. I think it can only get easier, though and the good days I have make up for any bad ones. I hope this has been fun for you all to read! Please keep in touch! I always love hearing from people. Much love to you all. Estamos juntos. PS. If you write letters, be sure to put "air mail" on them! :)