November 11, 2012

Chongoene

November 8th, 2012
My site visit was freaking awesome.  I left Saturday for Chongoene.  We boarded a chapa from Namaacha to Maputo at 5 am, and when we got to Maputo it was a little crazy.  We were dropped off at Junta, which is basically an insane chapa terminal with chapas departing for many different cities and people EVERYWHERE trying to sell you things, shoving things in your face, etc.  Luckily, the volunteer that I was staying with (Michelle) was visiting training for the week, so she was traveling back to her site with us.  That made me a little less nervous about the whole traveling around Mozambique thing.  In Junta, she led us to the chapa that was headed to Xai Xai, the provincial capital of Gaza.  We had to wait about 45 minutes for the chapa to be stuffed full of 20 people, and then we headed out.  Let me stress again how uncomfortable chapa seating is.  Luckily, our ride was only about 3 hours to Xai Xai.  Some other volunteers had rides that were up to 14 hours long. No thank you. 
After arriving in Xai Xai, we did some shopping and ate lunch (I had pizza -- it was delicious).  Then we boarded yet another chapa to get from Xai Xai to Chongoene, which only took about 45 minutes.  Michelle lives right on the school's property in a little house, which is both good and bad.  Good because the school is so close, bad because you have next to no privacy.  We were like a tourist attraction for the week.  All  the kids of the town were not shy about coming onto the porch and gawking into the house, checking out the white people in town.  It was cute at first but got old really fast.   Another thing to mention about the house is that it had an outdoor pit latrine/bathroom.  This was not particularly interesting to the other trainees there, but I have been spoiled with my indoor bathroom and toilet, so it was a new experience for me.  When taking a bath my first night in Chongoene by candlelight, I accidentally put the candle too close to the toilet paper and ended up starting a little fire.  Whoops.  I put it out, but it was definitely a memorable experience of tomar banho-ing for the first time outside at night.
On Sunday, we went to the beach at Xai Xai, so we took a chapa into the city and then had to catch another chapa to the beach.  The chapa to Xai Xai was fine, but on the chapa to the beach, there were so many people trying to get there that we ended up standing for over 20 minutes on the chapa.  That was an experience.  I was all up on people I'd never met, and that's completely normal in a standing chapa situation.  It's just something to get used to.
The rest of the week, we stayed in Chongoene.  We met the director of the high school,  some students, and many other community members.  One thing I love about Mozambique is that whenever you meet someone here or whenever you go to someone's house, it is customary to serve your guests tea or a snack/meal of some sort. Even though Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world, they want to give what they have to their guests and treat them well.  It is the most important thing to them.  Sometimes it can be a little much, especially when you've just finished a big meal or you just want to quickly stop by, but overall the gesture is one that means a lot and should be appreciated.  We were definitely shown much hospitality in Chongoene and I absolutely loved it.
The past week has been a great break from training.  I got to cook some American food, get out and see more of Mozambique, and get some travel experience without the guidance of the Peace Corps.  I missed my host family, but so far the site visit might have been my favorite part of training.  Just seeing how Michelle interacts with her community and how much she knows about Mozambique makes me so excited to jump in and get my hands dirty.
So now that I've seen a volunteer's actual site, I have a much clearer picture of things I might want for my own site.  We have interviews with Associate Peace Corps Directors on Monday, and then we find out where we are placed on Wednesday.  Training has seriously flown by, but I am so anxious to know where I'll be spending the next 2 years!
:)

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