October 8, 2014

Saying Goodbye

The time between my blog posts has gotten pretty excessive, so I apologize about that.  As the end of my service nears, it seems that blogging has become far less important, and spending time with friends and family in Messica has become far more important.  I have just about one month left in Messica; just over 5 weeks left in Mozambique.

I attended COS (close-of-service) Conference in the first week of September.  It was awesome to be with all of my Moz 19er friends again, but it also proved to be very difficult saying goodbye at the end of the week.  Some of my closest friends live nearby, but others live far away and I have no idea when I'll be seeing them again.  I know that I'll make it happen at some point - my sister and I LOVE road trips - but the fact that I don't have a date or a plan when I'd see them again really made it difficult to say goodbye.

Maggie, Helen, and I at COS conference!

I face this same difficulty when thinking about despedir-ing (saying goodbye to) my friends and family here in Messica.  Of course I am beyond thrilled to get back to the US.  I'll be able to call my friends whenever I want to!  I can spend time with my family, see my nephew, celebrate the holiday season, and give so many hugs!  I've missed home like crazy over the past two years, but I've also grown to love this place and call it a home away from home.

When I came to Mozambique, saying goodbye to friends and family was difficult to say the least.  It was unfathomable that I'd be away for two years, missing birthdays, graduations, weddings, and the birth of my nephew.  I couldn't wrap my mind around the fact that everyone's lives would continue...just without me in them.  Of course I communicated with those I am closest with through emails, whatsapp, facebook, and skype, but receiving pictures from a friend's wedding is not even close to being there. Sometimes seeing pictures of what you're missing out on just makes being homesick worse.  But when I left the US, I knew it was temporary.  I knew a time to expect to be home.  Even though that time was a long way off, the promise of going home was there which was somehow settling.

I have a countdown on my computer until I come home.  Right now it reads 38 days, 12 hours, 5 minutes, and 40 seconds.  That's how much time I have until I see my family again.  But that's also how much time I have until I leave this beautiful country until God knows when.

When I think about leaving Mozambique, the absolute hardest part is not knowing when I'll be back.  I will mention to someone that I'm leaving next month and they promptly respond with "DE VEZ?!" (FOREVER?!).  I normally respond with something along the lines of, "Well I'm going to come back to visit!" And when they inevitably ask me when I'll be back, I have no answer to give them.  I don't know when I'll be back this country of beautiful, inspiring, hospitable people and that thought tears me up.

My best friend Otilia has been through a lot since I've been here in Mozambique.  She almost died of malaria earlier this year, and ever since then has been very sick from what I think are stomach ulcers.  She is on a very restrictive diet and has lost at least 20-30 pounds over the last couple of months.  Her husband was recently in a car accident and had to stay in the provincial hospital for 6 days, suffering from 5 broken ribs, a wound to his lung, and countless other bruises and scrapes.  Along with caring for herself and her needy husband, Otilia also cares for her sister's child, Dininha (3 years old), who has been infected with lice twice in the past 3 months.  Life is not easy for Otilia. A lot of times what gets her through is her friendship with Sarah and I and her faith.

Otilia and I on our way home from the hospital when she was malaria-free!

I encourage Otilia that God brought me here for a reason.  He brought us together to be friends, and he is putting her through this suffering for a reason.  Though we don't see it now, He knows what He's doing.  She always agrees, but it's easy to get overwhelmed and scream "WHY ME?!"

To add to the pain and suffering Otilia is going through, I will be leaving in a month.  She knows I have to go.  She knows it's what's best for me.  But that doesn't change the fact that I'm leaving, and she feels that she'll be alone in her suffering.  She is my family here in Messica, and the thought of leaving her breaks my heart.

So, if I don't write a blog in the next 38 days, 11 hours, 50 minutes, and 30 seconds, it's because I'm soaking up my lasts in this adventure.  Coming up, we have the celebration of Teacher's Day, Elections, my first and last trip to visit some PCVs in the bush, and lots of going-away parties.  Soon my time in Moz will run out.  Until then, I'll be praying the rosary with the mãe's from church, going shopping at calamidades with Otilia, and encouraging my students to study hard for their national exams instead of cheating.

Messica means the world to me, and I couldn't ask for a better second home.  On November 15th when I arrive back in Cincinnati, the gaping hole in my heart that was left by friends and family back home will be filled, but another whole just as big will be there from all that I left in Mozambique.

But if a broken heart is the price I have to pay for my Peace Corps experience, I can say with my head held high and no doubt in my mind that it was worth it.

It was all worth it.

August 29, 2014

The Adventure of a Lifetime!

The last month or so has been extremely busy with the closing of the second trimester of school and three weeks of traveling adventures.  I'm gonna skip the struggles of provincial testing and just say thanks be to God that I will never have to deal with that again!  At the end of the third trimester, there are no provincial exams, so I can just write my own test and everything will be great.  Then, after I leave to come home, my 12th graders will have their national exams.  I hope that they do well, but I won't be here throughout that process.  I'm definitely not upset to be missing national exams, but I wish I could be here to support my students.  I will just do everything I can this trimester to prepare them, and then it's up to them!

Anyways, let's get to the fun stuff.  On August 5th, I turned in my grades and headed to Chimoio for the night.  On the 6th, I woke up super early with friend who was also going to the Beira airport for a different flight, and we headed to the chapa stop.  After a very frustrating conversation with the driver about how much wehad to pay that ended with him telling me that I'm a horrible person and I talk too much, we were on our way, and I was more than ready to get out of Mozambique for a little while.  We got to Beira with a lot of time to spare because you never really know how long traveling will actually take you in Mozambique.  Some days the trip can take 3 hours to Beira from Chimoio, and others it can take 5-6.  After hanging around for awhile, my plane arrived, and a short two hour flight later, I arrived in Johannesburg. 

Oh. My. Gosh.  The airport in Johannesburg was glorious.  There were so many things.  So many options.  So many people.  It was just nuts.  I immediately found an ATM, took out some money, and bought myself a coffee.  Then I found a seat and made use of the wifi (yes, wifi!) while I waited for my dad and brother to arrive.  They arrived within a couple hours.  After our reunion, we battled with some pay phones to call our hostel to pick us up.  Within the hour, we were driving on the highway towards our hotel.  The infrastructure blew me away.  I felt like I was in America, and it was awesome.    I am used to two-lane, barely-paved roads. I think Pete and Dad got tired of me saying, “It's just like America!”

Reunited in Johannesburg!

We got to our hostel, ate some dinner, took some AMAZING hot showers, and got some sleep.  In the morning, we made our plan for the day.  We decided to take a bus tour of Joburg.  It was a hop-on, hop-off bus tour, so you bought a pass for the whole day and could get on and off as you pleased.  We chose a few stops that we were interested in, and set out. 

Our first stop was the tallest building in all of Africa.  We went up to the 50th? (I don't remember how many stories it actually was) floor and were able to see the whole city of Joburg through the glass walls.  It was pretty cool!  After being up there for about 15 minutes, we headed back down to catch the next bus. 

Our next stop was at the South African Brewing Company's World of Beer.  If you know my father and brother, this is no surprise to you.  After walking around it we were unimpressed and decided to go to a nearby bar and grab a beer instead.  Also at this bar was the biggest couch I've ever seen in my life.  I wish I had the picture that I could post here.  After a leisurely beer, we headed back out to our third stop.

At our third stop, we ate lunch at one of the oldest pubs in South Africa.  I had a beer and a burger and I was blissfully happy with my life.  After lunch we walked around the area a little before we took the bus back to our starting point and where we'd be picked up and taken back to the hostel.  Our flight to Cape Town was that evening, so after packing up our stuff, we headed out to the airport.  We arrived quite early, and ended up doing logic puzzles while waiting to go to our gate. 

We arrived in Cape Town at around 8 pm and went straight to our hostel.  We got our rooms and immediately went out to the bar.  Are you seeing a common theme yet?  We hung out there for a few hours before heading to bed.  The next morning, we decided to walk around the waterfront and then head down to Long St. to check out the downtown/bar area.  We walked A LOT, but Cape Town is absolutely beautiful, and it was a super nice day.  At the waterfront, we walked around a mall and I was amazed with all it had to offer.  It was awesome.  We ate lunch at a brewery on the waterfront where we enjoyed some seafood and I got the most magical cookies and Irish cream milkshake.  Later, we walked down to Long St. where we went into the House of Beer that offered 99 different types of beer and ciders. There were SO many choices, but eventually I decided on the pear cider, and it was one of the most delicious things I've ever tasted.   Yes, I am describing all of my food and beverages because it was just that good.  That night, we went out to dinner where Dad and Peter tried some different types of game meat and then hung out at the hostel's bar again and learned some new drinking games.  

Pete and I in the beautiful Cape Town.

On Saturday morning, we woke up and got ready for the Cape Point tour that would take us to Boulder Beach (to see the penguins!), the Cape of Good Hope (the southwestern most point of Africa), Cape Point, and the Botanical Gardens in Cape Town.  I didn't so much enjoy our tour guide or how much money the tour itself was, but all in all it was a good day!  I even climbed a tree in the botanical gardens, and thought I wouldn't be able to get down for a minute.  It's always an adventure.  We got home in time from our tour to make it to mass at a church less than two blocks away from our hostel.  I was so happy to understand the homily, though it was kind of embarrassing how I've forgotten lots of the prayers in English since I'm so used to reciting them in Portuguese.  After mass, we headed back to our hostel for a braai, where we ate ostrich and rabbit meat which were both pretty delicious, but made my stomach hurt afterward.

Dad and I on the waterfront in Cape Town.

Sunday morning, we flew back to Johannesburg.  We hung out in the hostel most of the day because Dad thought Joburg's downtown area was super sketchy and didn't want to go into the city.  We used this opportunity to do some laundry with an actual washer and dryer!  It was super exciting!  Then we found an amazing restaurant at a nearby shopping mall to eat a delicious seafood dinner.  We also found out that they had an unlimited sushi buffet on Thursdays, and we just so happened to be passing back through Joburg on a Thursday.  Obviously we already knew plans for Thursday's dinner. :)

On Monday, we flew out to Livingstone, Zambia where we would see the 7th wonder of the world, Victoria Falls.  After a ridiculously long customs line at the airport, we made it into Zambia, and got to our hostel where one of my friends from Mozambique, Taylor, was waiting for us.  We spent the afternoon drinking, playing cards, and catching up on how our trips had been thus far.  After eating a quick dinner, we headed to bed pretty early, gearing up for white-water rafting the next day.

The beautiful Victoria Falls!

Tuesday was my birthday, and I was terrified of not making it past my 23rd birthday because of the crocodiles in the Zambezi river.  We were picked up early by the rafting company, and rode for at least 45 minutes in huge open truck with the wind whipping our freezing, freezing bodies.  That was no fun.  We eventually got to the gorge, where were able to overlook one of the rapids that we wouldn't be going through because of the water levels.  We were offered wetsuits, and got our helmets, life jackets, and paddles.  Then we started our hike down the gorge to the water.  We were pretty unaware of this part of the rafting experience, and let's just say I took a few falls, but I'd say I was way better off than my dad who had many difficulties making it down to the water.  I ended up leading the group down somehow.  When I made it down to where the rafts were located with Peter and the rest of the group, we ended up waiting like 20 minutes waiting for my dad, all the while questioning if he was going to make it.  We were put in a raft with two Italians that didn't speak English well and were very big on PDA.  Needless to say, they didn't help much with paddling, which frightened me to high heavens.  I was terrified enough to begin with, but they were making me freak out so much more because they wouldn't listen (and wouldn't understand)what our guide was saying. 

We started at rapid 7 ½ and rafted until rapid 25.  About halfway through, my arms were throbbing and I was doubting my ability to get through the rest of the trip.  When we got to a small area of water with no rapids, the guides stopped the raft against the rocks on the Zimbabwean side of the river. 

“Okay, here we have an opportunity to rock jump!” 

Pete and I look at each other...

I figured I could jump off a rock into the Zambezi, so Pete and I joined the group getting out of the rafts.  My dad wisely stayed in the raft.  It turns out the rock that our guide was referring to was actually a 30 foot cliff.  But I was already up there, so I didn't think and just went with it.  Hitting the water felt like a brick, but it was also pretty awesome...until I had to get back into the raft.  Eventually I got back in and we headed back into the rapids. 

Around rapid 17, we had gotten through most of the rapid, when our guide told us to do a “high five” with our paddles.  The thing was, we weren't all the way through the rapid, so when we did the high five, we hit a rapid and I lost my balance and fell out of the raft.  I came up under the raft, and started having a mini-panic attack because I thought I was trapped.  Luckily the raft moved almost immediately, and I popped up and grabbed on to the rope on the side of the raft.  Everyone immediately moved to haul me back into the raft, and they pulled so forcefully that I almost vomited all over them.  That would have been funny, right?  I yelled at them all to stop pulling me, and eventually they listened, leaving me like a beached whale hanging over the side of the raft.  I felt like I couldn't breathe, and it took about 5 minutes for me to calm down.  After that experience, I was sooooo ready to be done with rafting.  But we still had 8 rapids left to go.

Towards the end of the day, Peter and I got out and actually swam through one of the rapids, which was pretty cool.  Finally, we made it through rapid 25, and paddled our raft over to the shore.  There was a very sketchy cable car that lifted us out of the gorge and up to where we would eat lunch.  Then on the way back to the hostel, we drove through some small Zambian villages, which was  really awesome for Dad and Pete to be able to see some real African villages since they didn't get to come out to Messica.  Eventually we made it back to our hostel and got to relax for a little while before heading out for some birthday dinner.  It was a good day, but a very tiring one.

The next morning we woke up and headed to the Zimbabwe/Zambia border once again to actually check out Victoria Falls.  Taylor and I had also been talking about potentially bungee jumping off of the bridge linking Zimbabwe and Zambia, and had decided the night before that we were actually going to do it.  I would have backed out, but we had been talking about it for awhile, and although I had a super adventurous day the day before, I didn't want to let him down.  Instead of only bungee jumping, we opted to do a package with ziplining from one side of the gorge to the other, bungee swinging, and bungee jumping.  I had been ziplining before, but I really had no idea how the bungee swing and bungee jump were going to go.

Taylor and I post-bungee.

I ziplined first.  It was a nice and smooth ride over the Zambezi; super chill and not at all scary.  Not at all like the experiences to follow.  After watching Taylor zipline over to meet me, we headed up to get harnessed for the bungee swing.  I decided that Taylor should go first, since we had already decided that I was going to bungee jump first.  To bungee swing, you basically step off the ledge of the bridge, free fall 70 meters, and then eventually swing out 80 meters over the gorge.  After watching Taylor do it, I was absolutely terrified.  After no time at all, I found myself on the ledge being told to step off.  Umm....what?!  But I just looked out and stepped off the edge of the bridge.  It felt like I was falling to my death and nothing was going to catch me...ever.  I screamed so loudly.  When I finally got 70 meters down and started swinging out, I started to enjoy myself instead of being scared to death.  That part was kind of nice.

Next up was the bungee jump, and I was up first.  I got towels wrapped around my feet, and got all situated, but one thing I was not seeing anywhere was the bungee cord.  I was very concerned with it, and kept asking them where the actual bungee cord was.  It seemed as though that was the last thing they were hooking up before I jumped.  That made me super nervous.  At last, I saw them attach the cord.  They told me to step to the end of the ledge with my toes over the side.  The butterflies in my stomach were going crazy.  They lifted up my arms to form a T and kept their hands on my back.  After a quick countdown from 5, I heard BUNGEE! and felt myself jumping away from the bridge.  Falling head first was quite disorienting, so I didn't feel like it was quite as scary as the bungee swing.  After the cord stopped bouncing, someone came down to flip me over and pull me back up to the bridge, which was a very good thing because my head was feeling pretty crazy.  I got to watch Taylor jump from under him, because I hadn't made it back up to the top of the bridge from my jump yet.  It was awesome to be able to see the complete terror on his face as he was plummeting towards the earth at a free fall.  It was super scary, but I'm really glad that I did it!

My form's a little off...but what can you do when you're plummeting to the
earth and scared you're gonna die?

After our morning adventure, we went to the national park to check out Victoria Falls.  The falls were absolutely breathtaking.  We walked around for awhile, and then Peter and Taylor decided to walk down to see the first rapid of the Zambezi below the falls.  I would have gone, but I was super sore from the white-water rafting the day before.  Instead, I sat down on a rock near the stairs.  Dad decided to go on a walk, so I was just sitting there enjoying nature and being alone for a minute.  Before I knew it, I was in a conversation with another lady that was sitting at the top of the stairs waiting for some friends.  She was telling me how she's a social worker in Zambia, and we were getting into a good conversation, when all of a sudden a baboon walked up the steps and started staring at me.  Let me be clear on this: this baboon was no baby.   This was a daddy baboon.  It was freaking big.  And staring me down. 

I did my best not to panic.  I kept talking to my new friend as though nothing was happening, but when I looked back over, the baboon was standing right next to me, and suddenly reached out to grab the drawstring bag sitting next to me that just so happened to contain all of our passports and valuables and absolutely NO food.  Immediately, I reached out and grabbed the other side of the bag.  When the baboon realized I was strong, he started pulling with both hands, and that's when I started screaming and really freaking out.  Somehow, my new friends stood up and was able to grab the bag from both of us.  I rolled off of the rock I was sitting on into the dirt and scrambled to my feet.  My friend threw a wrapper to distract the baboon, and we managed to walk past him towards the park office.  She comforted me the whole way, saying how I did a really brave thing when she realized that all of our passports were in that bag.  I bet she's a great social worker.  The baboon stalked after us as we were walking to the office.  

The view from Victoria Falls park of the bridge that I bungeed off of...yeah that's a far drop.

We hid out in the office for at least 10 minutes, and I was really terrified to walk back to that spot to meet up with everyone, but eventually we got back our nerve and walked over.  As we walked up, my dad was sitting in my spot on the rock and Pete and Taylor were coming back from the rapids at that very moment.  I explained what happened with the help of my new friend, afraid that no one would believe my ridiculous story.  They really just laughed at me...but I am telling you, it was terrifying.  I have a new least favorite animal.  My friend even told me that the baboon was getting ready to slap me when she came in and saved the day.  Umm...what?  That is crazy.  So with jumping off a bridge twice and wrestling with a baboon, I was tired and ready to go relax. 

It felt like it was raining because of how forceful the falls were, so I'm sporting
my OSU poncho. :)

We went to dinner and played some more cards for our last night in Vic falls, and then headed to the airport the next morning to head back to Joburg.  When we arrived, we hung around for awhile before heading to the Sushi buffet for dinner.  It. Was. Glorious.  We definitely got our money's worth.

Friday morning, we were picked up by our safari company and headed out to Kruger National Park.   After a 6 hour drive, we arrived and almost immediately went on a sunset game drive.  Unfortunately our car broke down in the middle of nowhere, but luckily I had service and our driver used my phone to call for a new car.  By the time it came, we didn't have any time to see wildlife, but we did get some good star-gazing time in.  We ate dinner in the middle of nowhere, and that was pretty awesome.  Dad and Peter finally got to try xima, and I was happy.

The next morning, we went to Kruger National Park for an all day safari.  We saw tons of animals including giraffes, elephants, zebras, impalas, lions, rhinos, hippos, leopards, buffalo, and more that I'm forgetting.  It was a really awesome.  We stayed at a treehouse lodge that evening, but the name is kind of misleading because we didn't actually get to stay in a treehouse. :(  We stayed in a tent, which was fine, but not as cool as a treehouse would have been. 

Sunday morning, we did a short nature walk before heading back to Johannesburg.  Our safari had come to an end, and with it an amazing trip.  When we arrived back at the hostel, I did laundry one last time with a machine, and we had a delicious KFC dinner. :)  I left the next morning to head back to Mozambique.  I missed Mozambique a lot, mainly speaking Portuguese and the friendly people.  I am happy to be back.  I had another adventure upon arriving back in Moz, but I'll have to write about that later because my fingers are going to fall off.

I am leaving today for Maputo for my group's Close of Service conference.  I will head to the beach for the weekend and the conference starts on Tuesday.  Our group will be all together for the last time.  It's going to be awesome and super weird.  I am so excited to see friends that I haven't seen in months!  After COS conference, I will only have 2 more months in Messica.  Time is flying, and I'm so grateful for every minute of it!

The Cape of Good Hope!

July 17, 2014


Yesterday I was giving a lesson on geometric sequences to my 12th grade students.  After explaining a very simple concept of calculating the ratio of the geometric sequence, and giving an example, we moved on to another example.

"Calculate the general term of the sequence...what information have we been given?" I asked
"The first term of the sequence!” the class yelled in unison.
“Yes, very good! What else?”
“The ratio!”
“Okay, how do we calculate the ratio?”

One of my better student raises his hand.
"We take the second term of the sequence and divide it by the first term."
"Great job! So what's the second term of the sequence?"
"And what's the first term of the sequence?"
"Okay, so what's our ratio?"
"Okay, awesome! Are there any questions?"

One student slowly raises his hand.
“Teacher I can't leave today without knowing one thing.”
"Okay...how can I help?"
"Teacher, I tried to calculate the ratio using my phone's calculator and 2/3 is not the answer that I'm getting."
"Okay, what answer are you getting?"
"A very long decimal."
"Are you getting 0.6666666?"
"Yes, teacher! How did you know? I am so confused..."
"Tell me this, what are you typing into your phone that gave you that decimal?"
"Teacher, I was just diving the second term by the first term in the sequence."
"No, but exactly what buttons are you pushing on your telephone?"
"Teacher, I put in those numbers that we are using."

***absolute silence for about 20 seconds***

Everyone in the entire room except this student start cracking up...including myself.  After getting everyone settled down again, I finally was able to ask, "Are you pushing 2 and then divided by and then 3?"
"Yes, teacher."
"Don't you see, that's 2/3...you don't even have to put it in the calculator!"

He didn't even get it after that.  Another classmate had to show him on a scientific calculator that 2/3 and 0.66666 are the same thing and he still had a hard time believing it.

Jfkdasl;jdkapoufioapsdfjksa;ld. Teaching in Mozambique. The struggle is real.

July 3, 2014

Projeto Embelezamento - Messica

I'm sorry that it's been awhile since my last blog. Things have been rolling along just fine here in Messica! We're well into the second trimester now, and will be finishing up with provincial exams in just a few weeks. Though I am less than excited for provincial exams, I am extremely excited to finish up the trimester so that I can head to South Africa to meet up with my dad and brother on August 6th! I can't believe that it's only about a month away!

So to catch up on the events of June, there were many things going on including but not limited to planning for JUNTOS workshops, 3 out of the 4 JUNTOS workshops happening, and the implementation of Projeto Embelezamento at our school here in Messica!

My JUNTOS workshop fun will be next weekend in Gondola, so hopefully I will be posting a blog after about how things went. I'm hoping for the best this year, since my workshop last year had more than a few problems. I'm optimistic that this year will be much better, as long as the counterparts are all involved and ready to give their sessions on topics such as HIV/AIDS, violence, leadership, diversity, malaria, and more. There are 5 students from Messica that will be attending the Workshop, including two of my 12th grade students, that were so excited that they were chosen that they started jumping up and down...not joking. It was adorable, and I can't wait to see all that they will learn and contribute to the conversation next weekend.

Moving on to the most important thing that has been happening here in Messica over the last month and the reason that I'm writing this blog. Projeto Embelezamento!

Last year, Sarah and I took two of our colleagues to a conference put on by Peace Corps called Project Design and Management. This conference taught us how to plan and implement a project. We learned how to do a needs assessment of the community, how to plan a budget, how to apply for grants, etc. Over the two day conference, we came up with many ideas about how we could improve our school, and we decided that we should survey the students, teachers, community, and school direction to find out what our priority project would be. The results of the survey told us that our community's number one preference was a computer lab for the school. This all happened in August and September of last year.

Sarah and I worked on writing a grant, and eventually submitted it to Peace Corps. After waiting awhile and getting some feedback, we had to make some changes to our application. We resubmitted it, and waited approximately FOREVER to hear anything.

While I was home in December/January, we finally got word that upon changing a few more things, our grant application would be approved. Sarah and I talked in depth about the project and whether we thought it would be realistic to try to construct a whole building, and then try to find computers to fill it with in just 10 months. Based on the fact that there are 4 classrooms at school that have been in construction since we got here and are still not much farther to being finished then when we arrived, we decided that it was probably unrealistic to think that we could get it all done in such a short time. We definitely didn't want to only do a project halfway, so we broke the news to our colleagues that we didn't think our computer lab project was feasible.

Our colleagues took the news well, and insisted that we should still try to do a small project to help the school. After brainstorming with them, we determined that the school had a great need for benches and tables outside. There was one double sided bench at the school for the entire student body of about 2500 students. It was a well-used bench, but it wasn't cutting it. Sarah and I agreed that extra tables and benches would be extremely useful to have at the school, and the project seemed like a very doable one with our remaining 10 months. We got to work on the grant proposal.

After about two months, our proposal was approved. Then came the fund-raising. Thanks to all of you that donated and made the project possible!

When the funds were all donated, the money was deposited into our accounts, and we met with our colleagues to start the construction process. Construction started on June 3rd. After only 20 days of construction, the project was finished on June 23rd. We now have 5 tables with 6 seats each and 3 more double sided benches on our school's campus. I was absolutely amazed at the coordination and efficiency that our colleagues showed us throughout the project. They worked so well together and made sure that everything was perfect! They made sure that 25% of the cost that was the community's responsibility was all accounted for, and all of the money was well used. I could not be more proud to have taken part in such a successful and well-executed project.

The tables and benches are already being used by many students. They are SO excited to have new places to sit and study, or just sit and chat with friends. One student even told me, “Teacher, our school is so nice to be building us new places to sit!” I couldn't help but smile.

After the construction was finished, we had a meeting with our school director and school council president to sign the tables and benches over to the school. The school has told us that they are looking into buying paint to make them more pretty as well as useful. All in all, I can't imagine the process going much smoother, or the project turning out any better. Here are some pictures!

One of our newly constructed tables!

Our new bench next to the only existing bench that we had only one month ago.

Sarah sitting on top of one of our new double sided benches!

Thanks again to everyone who donated!  It wouldn't have been possible without you all!

May 24, 2014

Another Traveling Adventure

Traveling in Mozambique is no easy feat, especially going long distances. Because of a JUNTOS conference held in northern Mozambique earlier this month, I had a great excuse (and a plane ticket!) to go up and explore a few places I thought I'd never make it to.  

But let's start at the beginning of my traveling adventure with my friend, Taylor.  

As soon as we left the Peace Corps office and started heading to get some egg sandies before hitchhiking to Beira, where we'd catch our flight to Nampula the next day, the most unexpected thing happened.  As we were walking down Chimoio's main street, we saw a homeless man crossing the street and approaching us.  This is nothing too out of the ordinary, they normally ask us white folk for money, or just stand holding their hands out to us with a sad look on their face.  So I was completely unexpecting when the man walks up and without rhyme or reason punches me in the face.  Taylor and I stood looking at each other dumbfoundedly as the man slowly jogs off across the street again, acting like nothing had happened.  It took me about five minutes to wrap the mind around the fact that I had been punched in the face, and yet not even deserved it.  Now it's a really good (and still semi-unfortunate) story, but when I find myself thinking about it I'm still just like...umm what?  So that's how the adventure to the north started out, but luckily it only got better along the way.

The rest of the trip to Beira was uneventful (luckily!). The next day, we flew to Nampula, and before I knew it I was reunited with Maggie, one of my best friends from training.  We traveled together with another good friend from training, Stephen, to Ilha de Moçambique to spend the weekend exploring the beautiful old Portuguese island and ex-capital of Mozambique.  

Ilha was absolutely beautiful.  We walked around the island, explored the over 500 year old Portuguese fort, and caught up after 4 months of not seeing each other.  The fort was absolutely awesome, but we did have a little incident with bats in the church at the center of the fort. (Gross!) 

Hanging out on an old cannon inside of the fort!

On the roof of the fort!

Maggie and I on the altar in the old church.

Our group shot in the church, right before the bat incident. EEK!

Another picture in the fort, the old church on the left side
 in the background.

After a short stay in Ilha, Maggie headed back to her site as Stephen and I continued on to meet up with some other friends in Meconta, one of our fellow PCV's sites.  We stayed the night in Meconta, catching up with other 19ers and eating delicious food (Thanks Jamie and Nick!), and left early the following morning to quickly head into Nampula city and later travel to the northern-most province in Mozambique, Cabo Delgado.

After a long day of traveling, the five of us traveling together finally made it to Pemba around 6 pm.  We met up with another fellow volunteer who showed us the way to where we'd be staying for the following 3 nights.  The place was awesome, complete with a pool, and a large TV that played BBC news every morning so we got caught up on what was happening in the world!  

In Pemba, we walked around a lot and explored the city, the market (where they sold fried calamari and shrimp -- of course they were out of shrimp while we were there -- for lunch for super cheap!), and the beach!  Pemba is an incredible city: extremely beautiful, extremely fun, yet extremely expensive. So after 2 days in Pemba, we were broke and headed back down to Ilha for beer olympics!

Beer Olympics are usually a country-wide annual event, but because of the political tension in Sofala province and the travel ban between the northern and southern parts of Mozambique, it was made a regional event this year.  Conveniently enough, our conference was scheduled for the day after Beer Olympics, so there were representatives from almost every province present.  There were 4 teams competing, and I was part of "The Others",  the mismatched people that came from lots of different places to join the competition. I didn't compete in any drinking events (because everyone is wayyyy too intense and would make me super nervous) but I was a great cheerleader!  Most importantly, I got to meet a lot of the newer PCVs and say goodbye to a few that will be leaving here soon.  And I got to be reunited with Maggie and Hannah, my training besties!

Maggie, Hannah, and I repping our teams in our different shirts.

Moz 19ers at the Norte Forte Beer Olympics 2014!

Lisa and Helen!  They are fellow central PCVs and keep my sanity!

The morning after Beer Olympics, everyone involved in JUNTOS left super early to head to our conference, the real reason why most of us were up in the north.  We spent two days with the new JUNTOS leadership team, talking about the JUNTOS program, where we see it going, and handing over our responsibilities to the new kids in charge.  This year was also the first year to have Mozambican counterparts involved in the handover conference, so that was a great accomplishment for our leadership team.  From central Mozambique, we brought an awesome counterpart that has done AMAZING things with his JUNTOS groups in Gorongosa, Sofala.  I am confident in this new group of JUNTOS leadership, and am so excited to hear about all of the wonderful growth JUNTOS will experience because of them!

The central JUNTOS representatives!

After our conference, we flew back to Beira, took a bus back to Chimoio, and eventually about two weeks after leaving, I made it back to Messica.  I was so relieved to be home...and then I had to go to school.

We are now in our second trimester of the year, but the material is getting harder, and the workload isn't getting any lighter.  Recently I've had students coming to my house every morning.  As soon as one student leaves another comes.  I've had no break, and I've been explaining the same problems over and over again.  These aren't my students, they are my colleague's students, and he's giving them work that is wayyyyy too hard for them.  There's not much I can do to help them when they can't do simple math such as plotting a point on a graph or subtracting fractions when they're in 12th grade. Frustrations like these won't go away, but I am going to start to limit my time tutoring students to 1 hour a day, because otherwise I have no time to myself and no time to do anything besides tutor them.  Also after a frustrating morning of tutoring, I have to go to a frustrating day of teaching, and that's too much frustration for me to handle with a positive attitude.  I'm hoping that limiting tutor time will help my mood and be a good compromise.

In other news, we have received our first email about close of service (COS).  COS is a process that lasts over a month, because not everyone can leave the country at the same time.  COS week includes lots of appointments, and logistically over 50 people COSing at the same time would just never work.  The first week Moz 19 will be COSing is the first week of November, and the last week is the 2nd week of December.  We are supposed to find out our individual dates towards the end of June, so soon I will know when I will be America bound!

I'm sure with everything going on in the next few months, November will be here in no time!

April 12, 2014

Catching up

First off, I would like to apologize for my lack of blogging for the past month(ish). I've been sick on and off for the past month so that has made me feel unmotivated to do anything, especially things not 100% necessary to living, therefore blogging was put at the end of my to-do list. 

Since my last post over a month ago, a lot has been going on.  The sequence of events is lost on me, because when I got sick for the first time all the days kind of blurred into one, but over the last month I met a lot of new volunteers at a gathering called Coesao and also lost another one of my colleagues at school.

Coesao is an event where all of the volunteers from the 3 central provinces of Mozambique come together to hang out.  We like to have Coesao a couple of times a year, the first being around March so that all of the older volunteers can meet the newest volunteers to the region.  Unfortunately because of political unrest Sofala province couldn't join us at our Coesao gathering, so it was just Manica and Tete.  The weekend was held at Casa Msika, which is located just on the other side of the main highway from the villa of Messica, so while others had a day’s worth of travel to arrive, I just had a 30 minute walk. J  Rough life.  The weekend was great fun!  Some people even saw the infamous giraffes that I've heard about since I arrived here but had started to believe were a grand myth.  I still have yet to see them, but I swear I will before I leave at the end of the year!

Sometime after Coesao, I got sick.  My throat was sore and raw and I couldn't speak very well or loudly. Because of this, it would have been pointless to go to class where I would have to scream over my students.  I sent work with my roommate to deliver to my classes, and settled in for a few days.  When my sore throat got better, I developed a horrible cold.  I couldn't say three words without sneezing.  More days at home.  More visitors wishing me well and telling me to stay at home until I was fully recovered.  More students making sure their ‘Professora’ was still alive and well.  The Monday of the following week, I showed up to school just to be told by the school’s director that I was not well enough to teach and I had to go home.  So.  Frustrating.

Sometime during the week after being very sick but before everyone accepted that I was better and ready to be working again, another tragedy struck our school community.  Another professor of physical education was hospitalized in Beira from being sick, and he suddenly died.  I actually knew this professor and his death was especially hard for the community, especially after the death of his physical education colleague not even a month earlier.

Professor Pontavida was always very friendly towards me…sometimes too friendly.  He was constantly seen around Messica in his cowboy hat to block the sun as he was out in the field giving his lessons in the heat.  He repeatedly insisted that I come to his house and go on walks with him.  He would call me incessantly, letting the phone ring for minutes each time.  He somehow didn't get that I was interested, so I had to invent a boyfriend that didn't want me to hang out with him or go to his house.  Slowly the calls and invitations stopped, and I was happy to be rid of the admirer.  I saw him about a month before his death, before left Messica to go to Beira to study.  We waved and had a short yet polite conversation. 

When I heard about his death, I was shocked.  He was so young, no older than 35.   He had such a kind heart.  I used to see him at church on Sunday’s.  I used to pass his classes when I walked to and from school.  I just didn't know how to feel, what to think, what to do about his death.  Some teachers pitched in money to give to his family, which I gladly contributed to.  Other teachers made the long journey to Beira for the funeral, which I chose not to do.  Honestly, we weren't that close, and I had a lot of ground to make up in my classes from my sick days.  Nonetheless, we are still dealing with the loss of his presence in our community.  We lost 2 out of 3 physical education teachers in one month, and I pray that everyone else stays well and our community doesn't experience any more loss in the near future. 

That brings us up to last weekend when I co-led a training for all of our JUNTOS counterparts in Manica, Sofala, and Tete provinces.  Being co-central coordinators, fellow PCV Taylor and I worked together for weeks planning the conference, and it was finally time to make it happen. 

My plan was to bring one of the French teachers from school to the training so that he could help me start a theater group with interested students.  Well, it so happened that his wife had her first baby a few days before the training, so  on Friday I got a message saying that he wouldn't be able to attend.  It just so happened that I was on a chapa, waiting for it to leave Messica for Chimoio.  Another colleague from school, Frio, got in and sat next to me.  As we got to chatting, he asked why I was going to Chimoio and I told him all about JUNTOS. Frio expressed his interest in the program (and Sarah and I had previously talked about how he would be a good counterpart), so I invited him to the training for the weekend.  He thought about it for a few minutes and then excitedly accepted!  It all worked out and I had a counterpart for the weekend after all!

My counterpart, Frio, and I at the JUNTOS training!

Counterparts and PCVs arrived in Chimoio on Friday – the same day that my colleague agreed to attend the training.  The conference started on Friday afternoon with us talking about what JUNTOS is, our objectives, and trading experiences from the existing JUNTOS groups.  We have a few wonderful counterparts in our region that are doing excellent things, and it’s always inspiring to hear them talk about their groups.  Then Saturday was filled with sessions about community events, workshop planning, workshop sessions, and how to evaluate your group.  Saturday evening, we finished our training by handing out certificates and taking lots and LOTS of pictures.  Though we were thrown a couple of curve balls during the weekend, Taylor and I took them in stride, and I would say that the training was definitely a success!

On Sunday, upon arriving back in Messica, I got really sick again.  I had a fever and a horrible piercing stomach pain.  Monday was Mozambican Women’s day, and I laid in bed all day feeling awful.  Tuesday, I was advised to go into Chimoio to be checked out at the clinic, and on Wednesday I found out that I have an intestinal infection.  Currently I am on day 4 of antibiotics, and I’m only feeling stomach pain every now and again. 

Last weekend I submitted my application to volunteer with Christian Appalachian Project for a year beginning in January 2015.  I volunteered with them in March of 2012 for their Workfest program through Ohio State, and absolutely loved the work they were doing repairing homes in Appalachia.  I have volunteered with Habitat for Humanity in the past and I love it.  I’m hoping to be selected to be a part of the home repair crew permanently for the year of 2015.  If not, I’m hoping to work with the youth services program that CAP also offers.  We’ll see what God has in store for me post-Peace Corps, but I’m really excited, and I really feel like CAP will be the right fit for me after my Peace Corps journey.

And though this blog post has been a little bit all over the place, I would like to mention one more majorly important thing:

In Messica, Sarah and I are trying to raise money to build benches and tables around our school grounds.  There is currently one (I repeat ONE) concrete bench for some 2500 students, 70 teachers, and thousands of community members.  Our grant got approved, all we need is the funding to make this happen.  If you or anyone would like to donate to our project, we will be SO grateful.  Here is the link!

March 1, 2014

I won't lie...

 it's been a rough week.

On Tuesday, I attended the funeral of one of my colleagues in Messica.  Angelo taught physical education at the secondary school, and he died on Sunday after being sick for a few months.  As normal in Mozambique, I don't know what he was sick from..."he was just sick," everyone says. Could have been malaria, HIV, or something else completely random.  What I do know is that by the showing of teachers, students, community members, family, and friends, Angelo was very loved and well respected in Messica.

I didn't know Angelo well.  I honestly don't even know what he looks like.  I talked to him on the phone once, and everyone at the school says if I saw him I would recognize him.  Regardless, Sarah and I went to the funeral with the rest of the teachers and staff of the school.  We arrived at Angelo's house at 9 am on Tuesday to a huge crowd of teachers, students, and other community members.  I heard women wailing, and shortly after I arrived the woman next to me started breaking down and crying.

After standing for a few minutes outside the family's house, everyone started piling into open back trucks to be taken to the cemetary.  Sarah and I looked at each other for a minute having a silent conversation, "Are we really going to get into one of these super crowded truckbeds?"

And we knew the reality of the situation.  Yes, yes we were.  There was no other transport.  The walk to the cemetary was long, and we also had absolutely no idea where we were going.  It was either get in the back of the truck or go home.

So we found a truck with some colleagues in it, and they squeezed us in.  I was in the back of the group of people standing, and the lady that climbed in after me was sitting on the edge of the truck behind me.  When the truck started moving on the bumpy (and I mean BUMPY) dirt roads of Messica, I was close to falling countless times.  I only started feeling more secure when I grabbed a woman's shoulder, held on to Sarah for dear life, and when the woman behind me (who could obviously see that I was new to the truckbed-surfing ordeal) put her hand on my butt to steady me.  Instead of feeling violated with her hand on my butt for the 10 minutes that went on for days to get to the cemetary, I was so grateful for her hand steadying me and making me feel less like I was about to tumble to my death.

When the truck finally stopped I hopped out, happy to be in one piece.  We set in for our walk through the mato to get to the spot where Angelo would be buried.  After about a 20 minute walk, we waited for awhile with the crowd, and eventually headed to the burial site.

Angelo was buried next to his father on his family's property in a beautiful shady spot which was a perfect place to have a funeral.  I stood surrounded by students, colleagues, strangers, and friends and listened to beautiful words about the life of Angelo and God's decision that it was time to bring Angelo home.  Soon after, the casket was lowered into the ground and buried.  Then as is tradition in Manica province, rocks were put on top of the grave, and all of us teachers were called forward to lay flowers on top of the grave.

All of the teachers gathered around together and sang the anthem for all teachers here in Mozambique.  After another quiet moment, everyone started retreating to the trucks/cars to take them back into town.

I walked away with some colleagues and my school director, and upon reaching the already-full trucks, we decided it would be best to walk back to town.  I happily walked with them through the beautiful terrain of Messica and back to the main highway, the EN6.

After walking a few minutes and crossing the bridge over the Messica River, I was at the front of our group.  I noticed out of the corner of my eye, someone that I had been walking with was quickly running after a jam-packed flatbed truck.  "What is he doing?"  I asked myself.  "Does he want to jump onto that truck?  Is he crazy?  It's already way too full!"

Just then, the back of the truck came into view.  The man I was walking with was not running to the truck to get on it, he was running to the truck to stop it and rescue the two girls who were dangling from the back of it, only hooked on by their knees.  Apparently when the truck lurched forward these girls were not secure, and were pulled backwards by the weight of all of the other people in the truck.

When we realized what was happening, the rest of the group ran over to try to help. I was standing there not really knowing what to do when the girl on top grabbed me and started using me to support her weight.  The girl on the bottom was screaming, crying, and pleading for help.  Eventually, one person was able to get themselves loose enough to get out of the truck, and soon after other people were slowly able to move as well.  They were literally so jammed in there that it was impossible for any of them to move.  After a few minutes that seemed like years, the girls' legs were freed and they were able to stand again.  Though they were extremely sore afterwards, as far as I've heard both girls are still fine.

If not for the group of us walking along, one or both of those girls would have fallen to their deaths. I keep replaying the scenario over and over in my head, and I know for a fact that I will never again stand in an open-bed truck.  No thank you.  That was terrifying.

After the funeral, most people went home and there were little to no teachers to give their lessons that day.

On Wednesday morning after working out and getting ready to take a bath, I greeted my nextdoor neighbor who is also a colleague at the school.  He gave me some more bad news: another colleague had lost his baby daughter in Chimoio.  I didn't know the other colleague very well either, though I'm sure I'd recognize him.  Many teachers went to the funeral on Thursday, but Sarah and I hadn't been well informed of the goings on, so we just stayed in Messica and gave lessons on Thursday afternoon.

Then on Thursday afternoon at school I got the news that one of my students' nieces had died.

And on Friday morning, my best friend Otilia arrived at the clinic in Chimoio in so much pain that she was unable to talk or walk, and could only scream and cry in agony.  Otilia had tested positive for malaria a week and a half ago, and had already taken medicine for it.  Apparently the malaria that she has is too strong for the medicine she was given.  She tested positive with the most serious type of malaria that you can have.  She stayed in the clinic last night, and has now been released.  She will stay in Chimoio for the next week with her cousin and get treatments at the clinic daily.  Hopefully this time it will work, because I can honestly say I don't think I can go through seeing her in that much pain again.  It was awful.

So clearly, this week has been tough.  I feel like death is all around me.  Malaria is out in full force.  Last night, even with screens on my doors, I think I got 10 mosquito bites in 5 minutes.

Thanks to all those who have been praying for Otilia!  Please continue to pray for her and to pray for those suffering from malaria, HIV, and other illnesses both here in Mozambique and around the world.  Please pray for the families that are feeling the loss from the recent deaths in my community.  I am feeling the prayers and I am blessed by them!