November 24, 2013

The Spirit of Giving

Last Saturday I went to the market in the morning and bought some flip flops.  When I arrived home, I used capulana scraps that I had to cover the straps of the flip flops, and put a flower made of capulana in the middle.  My host sister in Namaacha taught me how to make them, and I decided to try to make them for a few people for Christmas.

After sewing the flip flops, I decided to make them for someone else as a gift, so I returned to the market to buy another pair in the afternoon.  The same man was selling flip flops because I returned to the same stall. As I chatted with him, he asked why I was back so soon, what did I do with the other pair of flip flops.  I had a picture of what I’d made on my phone that I’d send to my mom, so I quickly showed him my handiwork.  He gasped and called out, “São tão bonitas, pa!” (They are so beautiful!)

Just as he exclaimed how beautiful the flip flops were my friend from church, Bernadette, walked up.  She wanted to know what we were talking about and I quickly filled her in and showed her the picture.  Bernadette agreed that the flip flops were tão bonitas and she said that she wanted a pair.

It was then that I got a business proposition. 

“You have to make me more of these so I can sell them!  People will want to buy them!  They are so beautiful!”
“But I can’t make money off of these, sir. “
“That’s fine, you can just give them to me!”
“No, I also don’t have time to sit around and just make you flip-flops all day.”

…then an idea popped into my head.  I recalled that awhile ago, Bernadette had asked me if I had any work at home because she was looking for a job.  She was still standing there, so I looked over at her.

“Bernadette, can I teach you how to make these capulana flip flops?”
“Yes, mana Ana I would love learn how to make them, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to!”
“Trust me, if I can make them, anyone can make them.”
**Everyone laughs at the white girl that can’t sew**
“Okay, this is what we’re going to do:  we’re going to take two pairs of flip flops, and I will teach Bernadette how to make them.  Then she can bring them back and you can pay her for the work she’s done and you can give her more flip flops to sell.”

And that’s how I took two pairs of flip flops to my house (for free!) and set up a lesson to teach Bernadette how to make them.  Last Wednesday, she came over and we each made a flower and each covered one flip flop.   She loved how easy they were to make.  I gave her supplies, instructions, and the flip flops and she took it all home to finish the other pair.

On Friday, I got a call from Bernadette. 
“Mana Ana, I noticed when I was in your house that you and Mana Sara don't have a fridge.”
“Nope, we don't.”
“Well I have an extra one at home that I was thinking that you could borrow.  We aren't using it now and my husband says it’s okay if you take it to your house to use it.”
**stunned silence**
“Would you be interested in using it?”
“Yes, Bernadette, we would love to use it!  That is so nice of you!  Thank you!”
“You can come see it on Sunday afternoon.”
“Okay, we will call before we come.  Thank you again!”

So this afternoon, Sarah and I went over to Bernadette’s house and checked out our soon-to-be fridge.  It is huge and glorious and I am so grateful to her for offering to lend it to us.  Now we have to arrange transportation for the fridge to get to our house, and someone to come put coolant in it so that we can use it…hopefully all before Thursday when we will be hosting Thanksgiving in Messica.

I am so happy with this series of events.  Bernadette will hopefully be able to make about 25 meticais (just under one dollar) from each pair of flip flops that she makes.  She told me today that it took her about 10 minutes to make one flip flop, so that means she could make about 3 dollars an hour.  Not bad for someone who has been looking for work for months.  Hopefully she will teach others how to make them as well and be able to share the business with others struggling to make ends meet.

It is such a blessing to know people that give passionately without thinking twice.  They are such an example to us all.  Bernadette didn't need to call us and offer her fridge, but she did it without thinking twice.

My favorite thing that Mozambicans say that I've heard more times than I can count is:  if I give what little I have, God will only rain down more blessings upon me.  If people in the United States were as hospitable as Mozambicans and had this same philosophy, there would be no homeless, hungry, or lonely.  Everyone would feel the love that comes from being welcomed into a home.  I’m so grateful that I get to see this love firsthand, and I know that I will never forget it.

November 10, 2013

Site Visitors and National Exams

Last Sunday we received a visitor in Messica from the most recent group of Peace Corps Mozambique trainees.  I was there myself a year ago, and it’s extremely hard to believe that I’m one of the “experienced” volunteers these days.  Our visitor’s name was Ellery, and she will be an English Teacher.  Their group will find out their site placements this coming week, so that’s super exciting for them! 

So our job was to show Ellery the life of a volunteer.  Sarah and I were super happy to be able to show off Messica, what is said to be the best Peace Corps site (from other PCVs too, not just Sarah and I). 

Sunday night, we hung out at home because it was rainy and, let’s be honest, there’s not anything crazy to do in Messica on a Sunday night.  Monday morning we woke up and Sarah headed to the school to check the schedule for National Exams.  We had requested a few weeks early not to proctor exams, and miraculously, they actually listened to us!  Sarah returned about a half hour later with the news that we would only be correcting exams (had no idea what that entailed at the time) and we had the day free!  Yay!

We took Ellery to all of the sites: the market, calamidades, Otilia’s house, the modista, the school, etc.  Everyone was super curious to who the other muzungu walking around was, so we introduced Ellery about 7 bajillion times.  On Monday night, we received some guests in Messica.  The site visitor from Chimoio, Steven, and my friend Anna who lives in Chimoio came out so that Steven could see a more rural Peace Corps site than the city of Chimoio.  We walked around Messica for a little while and made a delicious dinner of pizza, salad, garlic knots, and chocolate chip cookies. 

On Tuesday morning, we woke up and went to Manica to go on a hike.  Our plan was to hike Mount Vumba, the source of central Mozambique’s bottle water supply.  Sarah and I had been by the Vumba plant before in Manica, but we had yet to climb the mountain.  There were 6 of us (3 visiting trainees, 3 volunteers) that wanted to go, so we headed to Vumba to ask permission to climb the mountain.  After the guard led us to an office, we talked to a man told us that we needed to write a formal letter asking permission and the director of Vumba would have to sign off on it before we were allowed to climb.  I was the lucky winner elected to write the pedido, so I got to work and about 5 minutes later had something decent enough to turn in to the director.  Unfortunately, the director had left, so we were stuck either sitting there waiting for him (which could have taken hours and/or days….literally), or killing time in Manica.  After deciding on the latter and walking approximately 30 feet outside of the compound, we got a call saying the director had returned!  It was a Mozambican miracle!  So we turned right back around and headed to the office again.  He granted us permission to climb after doubtfully asking if we would be able to chegar (arrive). He sent us with a guide, which turned out to be a great help as he filled up our water bottles at the source of the Vumba water and showed us lots of cool stuff that Vumba uses for water purification.  When we got to the main source of the water, it was gorgeous but didn’t have a great view of Manica, so we chose to keep climbing for about 15 more minutes to see the city from the top of the mountain.  So worth it.  The view was absolutely beautiful and the breeze was glorious.  After a nice cold beer and some chicken for lunch, Ellery and I headed back to Messica.

Wednesday morning we were beckoned to the school bright and early to sit for quite some time with nothing to do (surprise, surprise).   Eventually we were called into the director’s office to help with the process of correcting National Exams.

Let me tell you, it was a process.  National exams are given at the end of 10th grade (to progress to 11th grade) and the end of 12th grade (to graduate).  The 10th grade exams are free response, while the 12th grade exams are multiple choice.  Since the 10th grade exams are free response and there are way more 10th graders than 12th graders, 10th grade exams are much harder and have much longer of a correction process.

The 10th grade exam grading process:

1.  Coding the exams.  The same code has to be written on the tests, and the part of the test that is detached with the students’ names.
2.  Cutting the exams.  The students’ names have to be cut off the tests because if the grader can see the students name on the test, they will be able to raise their grades, or write correct answers on the tests.
3.  Locking the exams.  All empty spaces on the answer sheet must be locked.  This means that you have to go through each test and scribble or draw lines through the empty spaces, so that it is noticeable if something has been written after the student turned in the test.
4.  Correcting the exams.  Twice.

So guess who was responsible for numbers 1-3 for all of the 10th grade tests for every discipline?  Sarah and I.  There were a few other teachers helping as well, but what a long and tedious process that could be avoided if the school system wasn’t so corrupt here.

The 12th grade grading process is much more straightforward.  The tests are basically done on scantron sheets, so each test must be graded twice.  I am also on the team for grading 12th grade tests, which we will hopefully finish up tomorrow.  The rest of the week will be spent compiling 12th graders’ grades and recording them on pautas and in the computer.

And I thought provincial exams were bad…

Luckily, I won’t be around to deal with the second round of national exams this year or national exams at all next year.  Thank God for small favors.

In other news, 3 weeks until some lucky Brandts and a Vanvolkinburg are in Mozambique.  Can’t wait to see this.  Can’t wait to hug them.  I. JUST. CAN’T. WAIT.

…And everyone else in Messica is pretty excited as well.

October 29, 2013


Two weeks ago, my friend Otilia came over to my house to borrow some nail polish.  I sat on my esteira (bamboo mat) with her as she started painting her nails, and eventually took over for her and started doing the painting.  As we were sitting there, somehow our conversation moved to the civil war that ended in  Mozambique 21 years ago after 16 years of conflict and fear.

I asked Otilia where she was during the war.  She is 40 now, so she was a child/teenager during the years of the war.  She told me that she lived in Beira and witnessed things that she would never forget.

For example, she told me stories of RENAMO soldiers entering a house, holding a father at gunpoint and threatening to kill him if he didn't take advantage of his daughter.

Another story was that of a soldier on school grounds holding a professor at gunpoint in front of a class of students and forcing the professor take of all of his clothes.

The last story that Otilia told me is something that happened to her aunt.  She was forced by a soldier to take off all of her clothes, lay back, and spread her legs.  Then soldiers took dirt and sand and shoved it up inside her.  Using a pole, they packed the sand and kept putting more until her aunt could no longer stand up or use her legs at all.

Otilia has scars all up and down her legs from walking for miles upon miles in the dewy grass trying to outrun RENAMO soldiers.

I was in tears listening to these stories.  My heart breaks knowing that my Mozambican friends and family were put through this only 21 years ago.  And these stories only make the reality of the current political tensions in Mozambique that much more terrifying.

Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a lot of political tension and unrest between the majority party in Mozambique, FRELIMO, and the opposition, RENAMO.  RENAMO has officially ended the peace accord that was signed at the end of the civil war. This does not necessarily mean that there will be another war but it does invoke fear in many Mozambicans, especially those in close proximity to the areas that have been targeted with RENAMO attacks.  With local elections coming up on November 20th, many Mozambicans fear that these attacks will continue and perhaps escalate over the coming weeks.

Though not many have died in the attacks, Mozambicans in targeted areas have fled their homes in fear. Other Mozambicans are terrified to travel outside of their towns.  These attacks are unpredictable and random, invoking fear of traveling (and even living) in Sofala province.

Don't get me wrong, where I am living in Messica is COMPLETELY safe.  I feel comfortable and safe at site.  But it is devastating to think about what would happen if things escalate further.  I don't want to leave my friends, family, and students.  It would break my heart to see Mozambique head back down the path to war, and I pray with all of my heart that doesn't happen.  Analysts say that war is unlikely.  I pray that they're right.

But regardless of if a war breaks out or not, Mozambique is in need of prayers.  Even with no official war these small attacks are causing citizens to live in fear.  They are fleeing their homes. There are random people that are being injured and dying in the crossfire in attacks on the national highway in Sofala.  This is no way to live.

Pray for peace in Mozambique.  Pray for successful dialogues and uneventful elections this November.  Pray for all of the Mozambicans that have fled their homes and are living fearfully in the bush.  Pray for all of the Mozambicans that have witnessed traumatic scenes from the war that will be with them forever.  Pray that they will never be forced to witness them again.

October 21, 2013

Cheating, Church Dance Parties, and Calamidades (my Mozambican life in a nutshell)

The past couple of weeks have been busy with the end of the school year and other festivities.  Two weeks ago I gave my last tests of the year to all of my turmas.  As you may have expected, it didn't go so well. 

Testing is one of my least favorite things about teaching, especially in Mozambique. Mozambicans know how to cheat.  Some of them aren't as good at it as others, but they all try.  Some succeed.  Some fail.  I despise it all. 

This trimester, I gave my tests on Wednesday/Thursdays.  I had one ciencias turma on Wednesday and two others on Thursday.  The test seemed to be going okay in the first turma I gave it to, until I realized that one of the best students in the class was writing all of the answers down on the corner of his scrap piece of paper.  These scrap pieces of paper are THE WORST.  All of the students want to use them, and I leave them space on the back of the test, but they just hate “dirtying the test.”  They will complain to no end if I don’t let them use scrap paper, but scrap paper is a Mozambican teacher’s worst enemy when it comes to testing.  Students pass them back and forth, sending the answers.  They’re just the worst.  Anyway, when I saw this student writing down the answers, I made a mental note to make sure to collect his scrap paper when he turned in his test.  By the time he came to turn in his test, there were only a few students left in the room.  He brought me his test, and I asked him for his scrap paper.  When he turned it in, there was a chunk of the paper gone, conveniently where all the answers he had written down were.

“Where’s this piece of the paper?”

“I don’t know teacher, another student gave me the paper to use and it was already missing.”

“No, I saw it on here earlier, and you were writing down all of the answers.  Where is it?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about teacher.  That part of the paper wasn't here.”

“You’re lying.  Give it to me.”

“I don’t have anything, teacher.”

Until he eventually reached into his pocket and pulled out a small piece of paper.  On one side was written ‘Prova A’ with all of his answers, and on the other side ‘Prova B’ with all of his neighbors’ answers.
This was the chefe da turma; the person who is in charge of the turma, and who is an excellent student in math.   I didn’t even know what to do with myself.

“What were you going to do with these?”

“I was just going to take them home to remember the answers.”

“Don’t lie to me.  What you’re doing is so ugly, do you realize that?”

“Yes, teacher.”

“The year went so well and this is how we’re ending it.  How?  Why did you do this?”

“I’m sorry, teacher.”

“I want to cry right now, just leave.”

That’s basically how it went.  I was so disappointed.  I wanted to quit.  I wanted to cry.  I wanted to crawl in bed and never come out.  Unluckily for me, there was a whole other day of testing in front of me.  It seemed to go smoothly in my first two turmas (until I got home and realized half of one turma cheated), and then I got to my third turma.  Everything was going well, until one student came and turned in his test, followed by the dude sitting next to him.  They turned in the same test.  I purposely alternate tests to keep the students from cheating. 

“Joaquim, come here.”

“Yes, teacher.” 

“Why do you and Felix have the same test?”

“What do you mean, teacher?”

“You turned in the same variation of the test.  You were sitting next to each other.  How did this happen?”

“I don’t know, teacher.  That was the test that you gave me.”

“Okay, well you’re lying because I never would have given you the same test.”

Just then the third person sitting at their desk turns in his test which is, conveniently enough, the same variation.  They all traded tests while I was passing out the tests so that they could cheat.  Later, while I was grading, I found out that 4 separate desks of students all had the same variations.  I also found out many students from that turma also cheated.  (I know when students cheat because they have at least 5 points higher on the test then what I think they’re capable of getting.)

I didn't know what to do.  I felt defeated by the Mozambican education system.  I felt disrespected by my students.  I just wanted to go home.  Then I got an idea.  I decided that if the students really knew the material of the questions they got right, they would be able to do it again in front of me.  I selected two questions that the students got right on the test, and the next class called them up individually to solve them.  If they solved them both correctly, their score would be maintained.  If they missed one, they would have 25% of their grade taken off.  If they missed both, they would have 50% of their grade taken off.  The students didn’t know what I was doing or why I was doing it, and I didn't tell them until the next class when I handed back their tests.  Some admitted to cheating.  Many denied it, though they clearly had no idea what they were doing.   Mozambique, you are so frustrating!

Saturday October 12th was Professor’s day in Mozambique.  I went to the praça with Sarah in the morning.  After the usual festivities of placing flowers on the plaque for the praça dos herois and cultural activities at the praça, all of us teachers headed to the soccer field for the face-off between the secondary school professors and primary school professors.  They had uniforms and everything!  It was so official!  After my colleagues finally understood that I would not be participating in the game, I watched half of the game, and spent the second half eating gelo (flavored ice/a popsicle) in the shade and talking to the school’s director.  It was such a hot day and they were playing this game from 11-1.  Who’s idea was that?

After the game, we went to the school for refreshments.  All of the teachers said they would prefer to go to the school right after the game instead of going home to take baths first.  Sarah and I went to the school, and in true Mozambique fashion the rest of the teachers took about an hour to get there. By that time we would have been able to go home and eat lunch, but we thought we didn't have time.  Silly Americans.  Anyway, we stayed long enough for me to drink a beer with our colleagues (and get extremely tipsy from it due to lack of food), and then headed home to eat lunch and hide from all the drunks.  Later, we found out that they were at the school until 7 at night and then went to the bar to continue the party.

The next day, I got up for church -- like normal, and a mãe came to get me for mass – unlike normal.   Normally, I just meet everyone at church, but little did I know, this was a special day at church.  I helped some mães carry a pot to the church, and they explained to me that we had a lot of visitors in Messica for mass and a big party afterwards.  I didn't really understand the occasion, but I also didn't really need an explanation.  I was just happy to be part of it and happy to have a full church and a priest in Messica!

Mass was indescribably wonderful.  I understood the message of mass, because it was done in mostly Portuguese, and I could understand the Polish priest extremely well.  All of my favorite mães were there.  There was so much joy in the church despite the ridiculously hot temperatures.  The priest initiated a dance party at the end of church before the blessing.  It was my favorite mass thus far in Africa, and just what I needed after the rough week of cheaters and feeling discouraged.  After mass we had lunch at the church, and I got to talk to the priest, sisters, and other mães from church.  The priest spoke fluent Portuguese, local dialect, and English, so I was pretty impressed.  He was visiting from Sussendenga, but I’m planning on going to visit him sometime because he was awesome.  After lunch, all the different visiting groups danced and sang individually, and all of the máes from Messica gave me a capulana and made me go up with them though I had no idea what I was doing. I caught on pretty well and was told I dance well and need to buy a capulana matching theirs so I can officially be part of the group. J

This past week was my last real week at school.  I went and told the students their averages for the trimester and for the year.  I worked on grades and dealt with students coming up to me and asking me to bump up their grades because they wanted an extra point or because they were failing.  Such a fun time.

On Friday, I went to Chimoio with Sarah and our friend Otilia to go shopping.   We went to the huge calamidades market and went a little capulana crazy.  I am so excited to get new clothes made, though I don’t know exactly what I want with each capulana just yet.  The rest of the weekend was a normal weekend in Messica.  Then today I went to calamidades with Otilia again, and spent most of the day with her.

Tomorrow, Otilia is going to teach Sarah and I to make the fish that Messica is famous for. I am pretty excited about it. I also will turn in the grades for the year, and then the school year is officially over and I am free!  Besides the pesky national exams in November.

The countdown is on for December 1st when I will have some special visitors in Moz, and then the 16th when I’ll be back in the US.

Até a próxima, fiquem bem! (Until next time stay well!)

October 7, 2013

Mozambican Wedding: Round 2

About a month ago, my colleague Mauricio mentioned that he was getting married.  This came as a surprise to me because I was under the impression that he was already married.  In Mozambique, it is very common here for people to live with a significant other that they call their spouse and have children with them without being legally married.  Mauricio and his wife, Ana Dulce, were making it official.  Registering as a married couple.  And spending a lot of money on a big party.

Mauricio and his wife are both professors at the secondary school with us.  Mauricio teaches Portuguese; Ana Dulce teaches biology. I was thrilled when Mauricio went out of his way to make sure Sarah and I knew that he wanted us at the wedding.  He came over one night to talk to me about a project that we are working on, and mentioned that his wedding would be on October 4th: Dia da Paz.  It was a Friday, but also a national Mozambican holiday, meaning there was no school and people were free.  He told me that he was trying to rearrange money so that he could make sure Sarah and I would be able to attend.  I didn't want to put him out  by trying to accommodate us, so I asked how much it was so maybe Sarah and I could pay our own way.  I don't know what I was expecting, but he said it was 700 mets (about 20ish dollars) per person.  I was taken aback at how expensive that was, but after discussing it with Sarah, we decided that it was worth it. Our wedding gift to Mauricio would be that we were present at his that's what we did.

Procession of the bride (walking on capulanas)
The wedding was at a hotel in Garuzo that I'd been to twice before: once for Women's Day, once for a Peace Corps Conference called PDM.  Garuzo is nice.  There is a beautiful pool, the food is delicious, and it is just a nice environment.  October 4th was a beautiful day.  After arriving and waiting around for awhile, the procession started.  Ana Dulce walked from one of the hotel rooms to the pool to meet Mauricio.  In front of her were the 5 adorably dressed "flower girl"-like girls.   I don't know what their actual purpose was, but they were so cute it didn't matter.  The procession was over dirt, so women took time to lay out capulanas for the group to walk on, and kept taking them from the back and moving them forward.  This made the procession take a lot longer, but it also made the whole process extremely entertaining.  The spectators were all singing and dancing with so much joy, and it made me so happy to be there to witness it.

Bride and groom processing in
After the vows and exchanging rings, Mauricio, Ana Dulce, the padrinho (Godfather), and the madrinha (Godmother) signed the registry, making the marriage official.  There was much singing, dancing, hugging, and kissing.  Then there were many pictures.  Mozambicans just LOVE pictures.  After about an hour  or so, we made our way over to the reception area, where as we waited for lunch to be served, the cake was cut.  Mauricio and Ana Dulce fed each other small pieces of cake, and soon after we were all served our own small pieces of cake.  Sarah and I were trying not to be too awkward at our table, but considering we didn't know anyone at our table very well, that didn't go so well.  The eating/buffet  process took an hour or two, and before I knew it, the car we came in was leaving.  We said one last Parabens to Mauricio and headed back to Messica.

Officially husband and wife.
Mozambican wedding round 2 was a lot different than round 1.  It was a civil wedding, not a church wedding.  It was way more elegant and fancy than the first wedding I went to.  There was no dancing (what?! - I was shocked).  There was a lot of joy, a lot of love, and a lot of smiles. Knowing the bride and the groom only made it that much more exciting.

I am so grateful for the opportunity I've been given to witness once-in-a-lifetime moments in Mozambique.  Blessed doesn't even begin to cover it.

Sarah and I with Mauricio and Ana Dulce

September 27, 2013

America love.

Crazy to think I've been in Mozambique for a year, and the members of Moz 19 are no longer the babies of the education volunteers in Mozambique.  Moz 21 arrived in Maputo yesterday, and will be heading to Namaacha to start their 10 weeks of training on Saturday. Unbelievable.

Though I love it here in Mozambique, there are a number of things I miss about life in America.  Here is my list.

10. My bed.  The mattresses in Mozambique leave a lot to be desired.  About a week after moving to Messica, I realized the mattress that I bought (basically a foam pad) was not going to work with my back, so I moved my bed into the extra room in my house and now sleep on the floor on a bamboo mat.  It is a lot better for my back, but I still have saudades for a good night sleep in my bed.

9.  Hot showers.  One of my favorite parts of Peace Corps conferences/staying in hotels here is having a hot shower.  Sometimes the water pressure isn’t great, but a trickle of hot water to get clean is better than no hot water.  Can’t even wait to take a hot shower every day when I’m in the US.

8. Good coffee.  They have instant coffee here.  Enough said.

7. Grocery Stores.  So. Many. Options.  There are two grocery stores in Chimoio, Shoprite and Spar.  Shoprite is good for buying cheese and chocolate, and Spar is good for buying other random things from the US (sometimes they have m&ms!) but on the whole, Shoprite and Spar aren’t really Peace Corps budget friendly, so I just miss US grocery stores – and I can’t wait to check out Jungle Jim’s in December!

6.  Fall.  Pumpkin flavored everything, jeans and hoodie weather, leaves falling off the trees, bonfires, apple cider.  Man, I miss fall.

5.  Mass in English! (with Communion).  I’ve already mentioned in other posts that we don’t have a priest in Messica, which is definitely  a struggle for me.  I get communion maybe once every 2 months, and mass is in Portuguese and Shona, so sometimes I can understand  some minimal things, but on the whole, I don’t take as much from mass as I would like.  I’m so excited to visit the Newman Center when I’m home and go to mass in English. J

4.  So many food options!  I already have a mental list of what I want to eat in the US.  And it’s LONG.  I don’t know if I’ll be able to fit it all in to three weeks, but I’m sure going to try.  Mom, get ready to make some delicious foods!

3.  OSU Sporting Events (Live & on TV).  There’s nothing like some Ohio State love either in the Shoe, the Schott, or sitting on my couch in the living room.  I miss all the hype and being in the know about what’s going on.  I miss singing Carmen at football games, and seeing campus blow up with people on game day.  Peter, I’m counting on you to get me a basketball ticket in January so I can get my fix before coming back to Mozambique.

2.  My car/transportation.  Transportation in Mozambique leaves much to be desired, and the thought of getting in my car (or any personal car for that matter) and driving myself to my destination without stopping countless times to let people on and off sounds glorious.  Having a seat to myself, what a luxury!  Can’t even wait for the plane ride.

1. Friends and family.  By far, the thing I miss most about America is the people that I left there.  My friends and family have been so great and supportive, and it doesn’t feel like it’s been a year since I’ve seen them.  I can’t wait for all the hugs and the love that will be shared in the month of December.  Loving Mozambique, but literally counting down the days until I get to see you all again.  SAUDADES DEMAIS!

Oh and for those of you that don’t know, I will be in the states from December 16th – January 6th.  I will be visiting my family in California December 19th-22nd, spending Christmas in Cincinnati, and hopefully New Years in Columbus.  Plan accordingly, my friends!

September 23, 2013

Moz love

It's extremely hard to believe that I've been in Mozambique for about a year.  I left my family and friends on September 25th and headed to Philly for a day of meeting my to-be friends and support system in Mozambique. We all flew together from NYC to Johannesburg, connected to Maputo, and arrived in Mozambique on September 27th.  Wednesday marks my year mark from leaving friends and family, and Friday marks my year mark of being in Mozambique.  I figured in honor of this large benchmark, I would make a few lists.  So today we have my 10 favorite things about being in Mozambique.

10 Favorite Things about Being in Mozambique

10.  Capulanas - Capulanas are an all-purpose piece of fabric that Mozambicans wear as skirts, use to carry around babies on their backs, use as padding when carrying heavy things on their heads, make clothing out of, etc.  They are so versatile.  I own probably about 10 capulanas and I have capulana pants, a capulana shirt, three capulana dresses, capulana purses, capulana wristlets, and will soon be adding a capulana hoodie to the mix.

9. My students - There are some days where I hate teaching.  There are some days where I have absolutely no patience.  There are some days where I want to quit.  But then there are the days where my students don't want to leave after math class because they are so excited to have me check their work and tell them that they got the right answer.  There are the days that I stand and talk to my students for hours in the shade about America and answer all of their questions.  There are the days that I am walking around Messica and a student excitedly says "Good Morning, Teacher!"  There are the times that my students are shocked to realize that I know their names.  All of their names. "Teacher!  Ja me conhece?!" ("Teacher, you already know me?!")  Though it can be a struggle at times, my students have made my time in Mozambique unforgettable (along with my birthday), and I am so grateful for them.

8.  The Mozambican Landscape - Mozambique is absolutely beautiful.  I have been to 8 out of 11 provinces, and each one is beautiful in its own way.  I am so fortunate to live in Manica province, where temperatures are a little more tolerable, and I'm surrounded by beautiful mountains and gorgeous views everywhere I turn.  Mozambique has some of the best beaches in the world, and before the end of my Peace Corps service, I hope to explore lots of them. I am so blessed to live in a country where everywhere I turn, I am reminded of the greatness of God.  God's presence can't be denied in a place this beautiful.

7.  Experiencing Mozambican Culture - Throughout the past year, I have learned so much about Mozambican culture.  There are some things about Mozambican culture that drive me crazy.  And then there are other things about Mozambican culture that inspire me daily.  There are so many things I will take from this experience, especially how giving Mozambicans are, despite what little they have.

6. Learning Portuguese - When I arrived in Mozambique, I had briefly looked through at Portuguese for Dummies book, and listened to some Brazilian recordings of Portuguese.  I was scared to try to learn Portuguese in the US, because I didn't want to learn something wrong or in the wrong accent and then mess it up for my two years of service.  During Pre-Service Training (PST), I struggled at the beginning with Portuguese.  I would speak to my host family in mostly Spanish.  I even heard myself say "Gracias" on the first day, and I was so embarrassed that I hid in my room for about an hour.  Throughout training, my language skills drastically changed, and since being in Messica, they have gotten even better.  I am now confident in my abilities to speak Portuguese.  Though I make MANY grammatical errors, I can communicate.  I have been told that my accent is great.  I have been asked if I am Brazilian or Portuguese because otherwise there is no way I could speak Portuguese this well.  I am so grateful for the experience to learn and use Portuguese on a daily basis.  I teach in Portuguese, and am constantly learning new vocabulary.  Learning Portuguese has been something that I've enjoyed greatly.

5. My Host Family - During PST, every trainee was placed with a host family.  My host family happened to be the bomb.  Seriously, though.  I have two host sisters, Dadinha and Nucha, my host mom, and my host nephew, Walmer.  I have mad saudades for all of them.  I really wish Namaacha was closer, but I visited once in April, and will be visiting again in December when my family is here to visit.  They really have been a support system for me while in Mozambique, and though I live far away from them it always brightens up my day to get a call or text from them.  I can't imagine my experience in Mozambique without them.  They are my family and I love them.

4.  My Placement -  Where you are placed and who you are placed with can basically make or break your service.  I mean, many volunteers are placed in sites that are less than ideal and they make the best out of what they were given.  I am extremely blessed to have been placed in my ideal Peace Corps site.  Messica is between the two largest cities in the province, Manica and Chimoio.  There is constant transportation from Messica to both cities.  I have running water and electricity in my house.  I can buy food, clothes, and all necessities in Messica.  I can go into Chimoio and use free internet at the Peace Corps office whenever I want/need. The direction of the school in Messica is supportive and helpful.  The people in the community are excited that we are here, and are all super friendly.  We are the first PCVs here in Messica, so the community doesn't have preconceived notions about Peace Corps Volunteers..  I get along with my roommate extremely well, and she puts up with my crazy.  Honestly, I could have not gotten any luckier on my Peace Corps placement.  Every PCV that's been to Messica raves about what a great site Sarah and I have, and we know that we are extremely blessed.  I couldn't be happier in Messica.

3.  Peace Corps Community - Honestly, when I joined the Peace Corps, I didn't really think about the community I would be entering.  I thought more about the Mozambicans I would befriend than the other American volunteers and what an impact they would have in my service.  I don't know what I would do without my Peace Corps support system.  These people know what I'm going through.  They understand the cultural differences.  They understand when I'm craving Chipotle so bad I want to cry. (And they don't judge me for it.)  I've formed friendships that are life-long. I am so blessed.

2.  Witnessing the Universal Church - Being in Mozambique and being a member of the Catholic church in Messica, I have met incredible people.  I have become close to a small group of ladies from the church that are part of the Legion of Mary.  They are just incredible people that inspire me daily.  They make me feel welcome, and treat me as family.  I am blessed to be on the other side of the world, and still feel at home in my church.  Mass might be in Portuguese, we may not have communion on a weekly or even biweekly basis, but I have a home in the Catholic church in Messica, and for that I am extremely grateful.

1.  Expanding Horizons - My comfort zone has been stretching and expanding over the last year.  Not just in social situations, but in every aspect of my life.  I eat foods that I never thought I would.  I can comfortably travel by myself.  I can stand up for myself in Portuguese.  I am content with no personal space on chapas. I have danced in public (wish less embarrassment). Seeing my personal growth over the last year is something I am proud of.  I have been open minded, and because of that I have transformed.  I hope to continue this transformation, and go back to the US in 2014 with a new outlook and ready for anything.

September 17, 2013


This past weekend, I went to meet up with one of my best Peace Corps friends in Quelimane. There was also a Peace Corps event in Quelimane over the weekend that was the National Science Fair.  My plans were to have someone buy my bus ticket on Thursday, go into Chimoio after class on Thursday, stay up all night, and sleep on the bus that departed early (4AM Friday morning).     My plan went about halfway smoothly.  A friend bought my bus ticket on Thursday, I got into Chimoio Thursday night, and that’s where my plan went downhill.  I should’ve known I would be able to stay up all night.  At around midnight, I could barely keep my eyes open and decided to take a nap.  I set my alarm for 4AM (because I had found out the bus really left at 5AM), and fell asleep. 

Around 4:20, I got a call from Jamie, another volunteer that was also traveling to Quelimane for Science Fair.  I was excited to have someone to travel with, so we made plans to meet up at 4:20 to walk to the paragem together.  Whoops!  I hurriedly got my stuff together and walked super fast to meet up with her.  Just as I met up with her, I got a call from the bus driver saying that I needed to get to the paragem immediately because they were getting ready to leave.  Of course the only time Mozambicans are ever early is when I’m running late.  I told him I was coming, and Jamie and I picked up the rest of the science fair goers and booked it to the paragem.

Upon arriving at the paragem, we were greeted with a mini-bus to Quelimane piled with both people and other things to transport.  I’m pretty sure there was at least 6-8 feet of additional baggage piled on top of the bus.  In front of the mini-bus there was another almost full chapa.  I was with about 8 other people for science fair, and they promptly told us that our group would be split up into two groups, one to go in the minibus and the other to go in the chapa.  Me, being the lucky girl that I am, got immediately chosen for the chapa. 

Let me quickly explain the difference to you:  Minibuses are exactly that, small buses.   They normally have one comfy seat then an aisle followed by two more comfy seats.  In the aisle, there is one more seat that folds down (notably less comfortable than the other seats) and allows at least 6 more people to sit in the bus.    Chapas, on the other hand, are more like minivans that at least 18 people are shoved in.  There are normally 4 rows of seats.  The back row is a bench that seats 3 people comfortably (and according to Mozambican law), but 4 people must sit in.  The three rows of seats in front of this back bench include a half-bench and a fold down chair bench-extension thing.  Four people also must sit across each of these rows.  Finally, there are normally a few pieces of juttng out plastic behind the driver’s and passenger’s seat.  There are normally 4 people sitting on this piece of plastic with their legs intertwined with the people sitting in the first row of benches, leaving zero personal space or room to breathe.  There are also 2 people put in the front seat.  And you can’t forget the cobrador that normally stands by the door, hunched over the second row of passengers.

Now….which sounds more comfortable to you?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.  And I was pissed when I found out my friends had arranged an actual seat on the bus for me, but I had no proof and I didn’t want to be that white girl that was too good to sit on a chapa.  So I sucked it up and got in the chapa.  After an uneventful and very crowded trip to Inchope where the turnoff is located to go to the north, our chapa stopped.  We were told we were going to wait there for another car that was pre-arranged to pick us up and continue to Quelimane.  After for waiting about a half hour on the side of the road, people started to get angry and pretty vocal about their complaints.  They decided since there were enough of us to fill a chapa, we might as well get in one and start on our journey north.  Soon after, we all piled in the chapa (I luckily got in as one of the first people and didn’t have to sit in a fold down seat), and proceeded to wait at least another half hour for them to switch all of the things tied on the top of the chapa from one to the other. Throughout this long and drawn out process, our original “pre-arranged” ride showed up.  It was the “maningue nice” bus from Beira to Quelimane.  We had a discussion in the chapa about how we should get out and switch because it would be much more comfortable, only for our original cobrador to come over and tell us the maningue nice was full and we’d just have to go in the chapa.  Outrage doesn’t even begin to cover it, because this dude took our money not even knowing that we would have been able to get to Quelimane.  How irresponsible!  What a jerk! Seriously.

So that’s how I was in the predicament where I ended up sitting in a chapa for 12 hours.  At first, it was pretty miserable with my huge backpack on my lap, no air, and lack of sleep.  At our first stop to go to the bathroom I rearranged my stuff, putting my backpack under the seat in front of me, and giving myself a much more comfortable rest of the ride. 

After about 6 hours in the chapa, we arrived in Caia, Sofala.  We all got out of the chapa, and people took off in different directions to find something to eat.  I went with three other people that were on their way to science fair, and we found a little barraca that sold chicken and rice/xima to go.  They decided that we had enough time to sit down and eat quickly.  That’s about when I looked up and saw our chapa driving off.  I immediately called it to their attention and they didn’t seem fazed.  “It’ll come back,” they said.  “It won’t just leave us.”  I tried to play it cool, like the whole situation wasn’t putting me on the edge of an anxiety attack, but what I really wanted to do was run after the chapa and at least get my backpack (containing my laptop) out of it.  We continued to sit at this barraca for at least another 15-20 minutes as my colleagues leisurely ate their lunch and I sat waiting in anxiety, not even eating my lunch because I’d lost my appetite.  When they finished, I nonchalantly suggested that we should probably go find the chapa that abandoned us, and they all slowly agreed.  After walking to the main road and looking around for a little while, my colleagues started to get worried, therefore causing me to be in full-out panic mode.  One of my colleagues made some calls as we continued to wait around and wonder how the heck we were going to get our stuff back.  About 5-10 minutes later, we looked down the road and saw the chapa coming towards us.  I honestly don’t know what the heck they were doing during the time they disappeared, but I was so happy to see it at that point that it really didn’t matter what the heck happened.  I got back into the chapa with an unbelievable sense of relief and feeling a lot cooler, since I used the break from the chapa to change into some athletic shorts instead of the jeans that I was wearing before.

About 4 hours later, we made our last chapa transfer with just a little over an hour to go.  After about 30 minutes of transfer time, we headed out on our last leg.  I was noticeably more comfortable since I was sitting by a window and could control the air temperature.

At around 5 pm, I rolled into the central market in Quelimane.  After getting out of the chapa, immediately a man tried to reach into my purse and grab my phone.  I caught him and gave him a nasty look/lecture about how he can’t steal from me.  He reluctantly gave my phone back, and I got on a bike taxi and headed to meet my friend.  I promptly got a beer and tried to forget the previous 12 hours.

Besides the rough time getting to Quelimane, the weekend was great!  I got to see lots of PCVs that I hadn’t seen in a long time, and it was really interesting to attend the science fair that I might be helping with next year.  The trip home was much less eventful - in a good way.  I hitchhiked back with another PCV that lives in Chimoio, and we scored a good ride with a Mozambican chefe (boss) all the way to Inchope.  From there we got another ride to Chimoio, and I made the final leg of the trip by myself to Messica from Chimoio, arriving at about 4:30 pm.  I spent today catching up on some sleep, grading tests that I gave last week, and preparing my lessons for the week.  

September 7, 2013

O Happy Day

Sorry I've been a little MIA for a while.  Motivating myself to write blogs has been kind of difficult lately. It’s not like I haven’t been happy or happy to be in Mozambique, but I've just been in kind of a homesick funk, especially for the last couple of weeks while one of my Peace Corps besties was  back in the States for a wedding.   I miss my friends and family, and am literally counting down the days until my visit home in December.  This is the longest I've ever been away from home (almost at the year mark), and I honestly can’t believe I've made it this far.  But I think yesterday finally broke me out of the funk.  Yesterday was just a great day.  It might sound like nothing special, but to me it was a picture of a perfect day in Messica.

I woke up to freshly made cinnamon cake.  Enough said.

I went to calamidades with Sarah and we literally bought two full bags of clothes for under three dollars.  I bought some Nike’s for 200 mets (about 7 dollars). I was so excited!  We also found avocados at the market which is pretty impressive because avocado season is over.  Overall it was a very successful  market trip.

When we got home, Sarah and I had a fashion show with all our new clothes. We can now kind of wear the same-ish size pants/shirts, so we have some clothes we’re going to share!  Seriously, this was the best news of all time because I never thought this would happen. Yay Africa diet!

Then one of the Pedagogical Directors from school came over to fix our sink that hasn't been draining for awhile.  He is the best and always comes to our rescue.

After an amazing lunch of guacamole and homemade corn chips, Sarah and I set out to go see the modista (seamstress) that I had dropped capulanas off with the week before to make a dress, a pair of pants, and a purse.  I was super excited to see how they turned out, and though they needed a few alterations, they looked great!  I will go back to pick them up on Tuesday.

On our way back from the modista's house, Sarah and I stopped by our friend Otilia's house to invite her over to work out with us.  We had been talking about working out with her for awhile, and we downloaded this new workout/dance program called Hip Hop Abs that we thought would be fun.  On our way home we stopped by another friend’s house and invited Vovo Gida to join us in our workout as well.  I honestly wish we would have taken pictures, but literally this 45 minute workout was probably the highlight of my Peace Corps service thus far.  They really enjoyed it but it wore them out.  After the workout ended, we put on music and just had a dance party in our living room.  Hilarious and awesome don’t even begin to cover it.  The whole neighborhood knew something crazy was going on in our house and I bet they were all super jealous.  Hopefully they’ll come work out with us more often, or at least come over for more dance parties.
After Hip Hop Abs, the over-achievers that we are, Sarah and I did day 3 of Insanity.  It was tough, but I’m super proud of us for staying motivated and sticking to our workout plan.

Sarah and I then made a very Mozambican dinner of fried fish, rice, and salad.

I went to bed early and fell asleep after watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

So in general, life here in Messica is going well!  The third trimester is about halfway over.  This week I will be reviewing with my students and giving tests.  Next weekend I’ll be going to Quelimane to visit one of my Peace Corps besties and also to check out the National Science Fair. Lots to look forward to!

August 17, 2013

Mozambican Birthday

Mozambicans never cease to amaze me with their generosity.  The little they have, they are willing to give up in a heartbeat for someone else.

Monday was my birthday.  It started out as a normal day.  Sarah made me a delicious cinnamon cake (my favorite) and some of our friends Antonio and Gelito came over to hang out for awhile in the morning. In the afternoon, Sarah had classes, so I laid around and watched some episodes of Grey's Anatomy while waiting for my friend, Otilia, to get back from Chimoio to go shopping with me.  At around 3pm, Otilia called saying she was back in Messica, and I headed out to her house to meet up with her.  We made our way to the market, and spent about an hour shopping around.  We didn't find too much, but we did find one shirt that Otilia picked out that I liked, so she went over to ask the price (as per usual so the vendors don't try to rip the branca off) and before I knew it, she was giving me the shirt. "It's already taken care of," she said.  I was shocked because Otilia and I have literally had countless conversations about how she has no money and no means to earn money because she is often sick and has back/neck problems.  I told her I couldn't accept it, but she insisted.  She wouldn't take no for an answer.  And she was unbelievably happy to give me the shirt.  She told me, "If I give what little I have, God will bless me more.  If I keep what I have to myself, I won't have those blessings."  What if the rest of the world thought in this way?

While we were at the market, I got a call from a number that I didn't know.  I answered hesitantly and found my student, Fauzia, on the other line.  She asked me where I was and I told her I was at the market to which she responded, "Okay, see you soon!"  "Um...Fauzia, why will you see me soon?"  "Um....we'll just see you soon."

After the market, I made my way back to Otilia's house, and got a call from Sarah.  After I told her I was at Otilia's, she told me she'd meet me there.  About 5 minutes later, I heard Sarah at the gate outside calling my name and telling me to come outside and that she wasn't alone.  I went outside to be greeted by about 20 students from one of my turmas.  Some of them were holding a banner for me.  They all broke out into a very cute rendition of Happy Birthday, and then into the Portuguese version of the song.  Then, one of my students, Tomas, read me a poem that he wrote me (in English) that was probably the most adorable thing I've ever read.  I was blown away and SO embarrassed, because we were basically putting on a show that many passerby's decided was too good to pass up.  I thanked my students, and shortly after they all left.

A few minutes later, I looked up to see another small herd of students coming towards Otilia's house.  I looked at Sarah with wide eyes as she said, "I swear I had nothing to do with this one!"  They were about 20 more students from another turma.  They broke out into "Parabens a você" once more, and then had another poem to read me (written in Portuguese this time).  The gist of that poem was "You can doubt the brightness off the stars in the sky or the perfume of the flowers. You can doubt almost everything in this world, but never doubt our love for you." Yes, you can laugh.  Because I sure did.

After Fauzia read me the poem, one of my other students spoke up.  "Teacher, I was watching a TV show the other day and it had Americans in it.  It was one of their birthday's and after they were given a gift, they had to do a dance.  Is that true?"  I quickly negared (denied) the validity of that statement, but the student would not let up.  "Teacher, dance for us!  Teacher, dance for us!"   I legitimately wanted to crawl under a rock.  Dancing might be my least favorite thing, especially when I don't have any alcohol in my system to loosen up a little. I told them to teach me how to do their dances, but after that failed they had the great idea to make me dance with one of my students.  The one that made the comment about dancing in the first place eventually stepped forward and held his arms out to me in a ballroom like pose.  Next thing I know, our bodies are literally pressed together and he is grinding back and forth against me as we're facing each other.  Literally the most awkward moment of my life.  I looked at Sarah (as she was laughing uncontrollably) and started mouthing quite obviously, "HELP!"  After about 10 seconds of dancing with my student (about 10 seconds to long) I stepped back and said "CHEGA!" (That's enough!)

"Teacher, are you tired?"
"Yes, I am very tired!  It's time for you guys to go!  But thank you so much!"

It was definitely an interesting day.  But it was also wonderful.  I will never forget my 22nd birthday..that's for sure!

August 9, 2013


After a busy couple of weeks, I'm now back in Messica with the first week of the third trimester completed. My break from school was crazy, full of Peace Corps conferences, seeing more of Mozambique, and visiting with other PCVs living in other parts of the country.

Three weeks ago, I left Messica and headed just outside of Beira (the second-largest city in Mozambique) to Nazare for a PEPFAR sponsored workshop for a secondary project group called REDES (Raparigas em Desenvolvimento, Educacao, e Saude; Translation: Girls in Development, Education, and Health). I wanted to go check out their workshop, help out for the weekend, and check out the differences between JUNTOS and REDES. Despite our mini-bus breaking down on the way there, and the 3 and a half hour journey from Chimoio taking over 5 hours, the weekend went exceptionally well! The workshop was held at a retreat center owned by the Archdiocese of Beira that was extremely beautiful, had delicious food, nice rooms, and a Catholic church complete with beautiful African murals covering the walls inside. It's safe to say that I was pleased. I got communion at an intimate mass on Sunday morning, and around lunchtime headed back towards Messica to another Peace Corps conference that would start on Monday morning.

The Peace Corps sponsored conference I attended is called PDM (Project and Design Management), and was held about 10 km from Messica in a small town called Guruzo. There were 10 PCVs that participated in the conference from the southern and central provinces of Mozambique, and each volunteer brought a Mozambican counterpart. At the conference, we learned about identifying community needs, and how to implement projects in the community and get funding for them. My roommate, Sarah, and I both attended PDM and each brought one colleague from school with us. They were extremely excited upon leaving the conference and can't wait to get started! There will be more information to come on the potential projects we are thinking about for Messica.

PDM lasted for 2 days, and on Tuesday after the afternoon sessions, I headed back to Chimoio with another volunteer, Charlie, who would be traveling north with me. We spent the night in Chimoio, and very early Wednesday morning made our way to Inchope to try our luck hitchhiking north. After a couple hours of waiting for a ride and having no luck, I wandered over to a nice South African man named Carl at a gas station, and asked him where he was heading. He told me he was heading to Caia, a town right on the border of Sofala and Zambezia and in the direction we were trying to go. I asked him if he could give us a ride, and he replied that they had no space in their truck. I thanked him for his time and wished him a safe trip. Less than 5 minutes later, after making my way back over to the tree where Charlie and I were waiting, the truck pulled up, and Carl got out, explaining that he'd rearranged the whole truck so that there was enough room for us to fit. (Shoutout to Carl...what a guy!) After about 3 hours (of a trip that normally takes 6 hours), we arrived in Caia and were once again left to sit on the side of the road. We waited for over another hour, and luckily we had some other PCV friends that were also going north that got an awesome ride and they were able to pick us up on the way. We made it to Mocuba, Zambezia in record time, and spent the evening catching up with the volunteers there that we were staying with that night.

The next day, I hung out for most of the day in Mocuba, but in the early afternoon, I continued from Mocuba onto Invinha, where I would be meeting up with my two best Peace Corps friends, Hannah and Maggie. I got a ride pretty easily from Mocuba to the crossroads for Gurue, and then waited for an open back truck to take me the rest of the way to Invinha. It ended up being two more trucks, fending off one creepy guy, and a few more hours until I made it to Invinha, but I made it, and I was stoked to finally be there after two days of traveling! We spent Friday shopping in Gurue (the bigger city about 20 minutes from Invinha), and just hanging out after a few months of not seeing each other. Saturday was some more of the same, except for a traumatic incident with a dead cat and some stomach problems, which I'm not going to get into. The trip was great and I'm so glad I made it up there and got to see my friends!

On Sunday morning, Hannah, Maggie, and I headed out at about 5am. They were headed to Nampula for their PDM conference for Northerners, and I was headed back to Chimoio to meet up with my long lost friend and neighbor from training, Will. I was nervous about my trip because I was traveling alone and sometimes the trip from Gurue to Chimoio can take two full days. I didn't want to get stranded anywhere sketchy alone or have to pay ridiculous amounts of money for somewhere to stay that night. After saying goodbye to Hannah and Maggie at the crossroads, I continued on the chapa south to Mocuba. Arriving in Mocuba around 8:30, I got a ride from a local to another place where I could wait for a ride to Nicoadala, another crossroads on the way to Chimoio. After about an hour of waiting, I got a ride to Nicoadala. At around 11 am, I got to Nicoadala, and headed out again to try to get a ride to Inchope. As I was walking past these guys getting into a car, they asked where I was going and I told them. They told me they were also going to Inchope and would take me with them. So I got in their car with zero waiting time. It was a miracle! Then they asked me where my final destination was, and I told them Chimoio. It turns out the driver was going to Manica, which is very close to Messica, and which you have to pass through Chimoio to get to. He ended up driving me all the way to Chimoio (and he would've driven me all the way to Messica if I was trying to get there!), and we arrived in Chimoio around 4 pm. It was incredible. I never in a million years would have thought I could've gotten from Invinha to Chimoio in a day, let alone in 11 hours, but I'm so glad I did.

Within 5 minutes of being in Chimoio, I ran into a student of mine that was spending the break from school in Chimoio, and also saw the nuns from Messica driving by. It felt so good to see familiar people and feel at home again. After taking a brief detour to the Peace Corps office, I made my way to my friend Anna's house to reunite with Will and eat some dinner (mini-Math reunion!). It was a good night of hearing about their travels, looking at pictures, and catching up with Will on the 7-8 months it had been since I'd seen him. So crazy!

Will and I spent Monday hanging out in Chimoio. I showed him around, we ran some errands, and we hung out with some other PCVs passing through. Tuesday, we boarded a chapa back to Messica in the morning and spent the day passearing around Messica. Everyone in Messica was so excited to have a visiting volunteer! Wednesday, one of the pedagogical directors from the school, Jorge, took us to Manica so Will could see it. We visited an old Catholic Church built by the Portuguese, and we also went to see some awesome rock paintings that have been there anywhere between 2,000 and 10,000 years. Then we went to the Zimbabwe border, a town called Machipanda, but didn't actually enter into Zimbabwe because we're not allowed. :( After a busy morning of sight-seeing, we had lunch at Casa Msika before coming back home.

Thursday, we headed back into Chimoio to spend the day there. We went on a hike in the morning, and went to the kalamidades market in the afternoon. Friday, we finally made our way over to Beira (my first time in the city!). In Beira, we stayed with a Japanese volunteer that lives about a 20 minute chapa ride outside of the city and about a 3 minute walk from the beach! Friday night was spent walking on the beach at sunset and seeing a beautiful lighthouse. It was so nice! We spent Saturday exploring Beira. We went in the Grand Hotel that was built by the Portuguese and was one of the nicest hotels in Africa before the war, but during the war was destroyed, and now over 3000 Mozambicans live there. We also saw and went in the cathedral (so so SO beautiful). We went shopping and ate Chinese food for lunch. It was a great day...until the Chinese food made me sick. But I won't let that overshadow the trip; it was great!

Sunday, I said my goodbyes to Will who was flying back to his province from Beira, and headed back to Chimoio on a bus. Late Sunday afternoon, I made it back to Messica, and I'm tempted to never leave again. I missed it so much!

School technically started on Monday, but hardly any students or teachers actually were at school all this week. Tuesday I wasn't feeling well, so I stayed home, but Wednesday and Thursday I taught lessons to about half of my normal-sized classes. Not gonna lie, I don't mind not having 50-60 students per class. Hopefully next week things will be back to normal and I will get back into the swing of things.

This morning Sarah and I climbed two mountains here in Messica, and this weekend I'll be happily hanging out in Messica! Seriously love this place. I couldn't be happier that I live in such a beautiful villa in this beautiful country. 

July 16, 2013

Provincial Exams: Round 2

As I mentioned in my last blog post, last week was provincial exam week: the worst week of the trimester. I went to the school bright and early on Monday morning to find out my proctoring schedule for the week...or so I thought. Turns out the Pedagogical Directors decided to do things a little differently this trimester and post only the day's schedule instead of the week's schedule. This poses problems for a few reasons. One, it is really annoying to have to go to the school every day just to find out that you actually aren't working and shouldn't have left your house in the first place, and two, for the people that don't live in Messica and commute from further away (Manica or Chimoio), they have to come into Messica every day when in actuality they aren't scheduled, so it's an even bigger waste of time and money. The one good thing about the new schedule was that people who were scheduled in the morning didn't work in the afternoons, and vice versa.

At the school on Monday, I learned that I was proctoring in the morning, and had to proctor in the Cambodja where there are 4 classrooms located about a 20 minute walk from the school. I had never had the pleasure of going to the Cambodja, and let me tell you I hope I never get so lucky again. The classrooms there were about the size of my living room in my house with 12-15 desks shoved in them, 3 students per desk, and more students sitting on the floor. The aisles between the desks were hardly big enough for the tiny 9th graders to squeeze through, so I really didn't have a chance. The students were less than thrilled to have the muzungu (white person) proctoring their exam, because I refused to go outside and walk around and talk to the other teachers during the exam, leaving the students to cheat freely. I was also harassed by other teachers for not wanting to leave the room and socialize with them during the exam, but I stood my ground and stayed in the classroom for the duration of the hour and a half test. There was a lot of complaining, but I told them to get over it, and awkwardly paced in the 3 feet by 3 feet space that I had to walk in the room. Regardless of my lack of mobility, there were still some obvious cheaters trying to look at their notebooks under their desks, looking at each others papers, and whispering to each other. I confiscated notebooks, but couldn't really do much about the copying or talking. There was honestly just too much of that for me to try to control.

Tuesday morning, I headed back to the school to check out the morning's proctoring schedule, praying that I wouldn't be on it (especially not in the Cambodja). I was happily relieved when I got to the school when I didn't find my name on the list. I also managed to sneak a peek at the morning schedules for the rest of the week and happily found my name absent from all of the lists. SCORE! I don't know how I escaped with only one day of proctoring, but there will be no complaints from me about that. However, instead of being able to go right back home on Tuesday morning, my Pedagogical Director asked me to stick around to help him count out tests and get things organized, which I gladly spent about an hour doing. After that, I found myself standing around doing nothing and wanting to go home, but unable to leave without telling the Ped. Director who was nowhere to be found. I was standing around with some other teachers talking when two of my students came up to me and asked me to help them with what I assumed was a practice English exam (because their English exam was later that afternoon). I helped them through the second and third pages of the exam, and shortly after went home.

Later that day when Sarah got home from the English exam, she told me that all of her students had cheated on the exam because they had somehow gotten the exam before the test. As I heard that, my heart dropped into my stomach. I looked at the exam and my fears were true: I had actually helped the students with the actual exam. I had given them all of the answers. I couldn't have known beforehand because the first page of the exam was missing, but the crushing realization that my students took advantage of me to cheat was so upsetting. I wanted to cry, wanted to scream, wanted to leave Mozambique because it felt like there is nothing I can do in this country to help. I felt taken advantage of. And I didn't know what to do about it.

I didn't go to the school on Wednesday. I left Messica for Chimoio in the morning, and decided time away would probably be for the better. The central region of Mozambique had a going away party for one of the health volunteers living in Chimoio, Shane, who had completed his 2 years of service and is now heading back to America. That was a nice distraction from the provincial exam mess. Then Thursday through Sunday I was in Maputo for a long and intense conference for JUNTOS that was very good but also extremely busy. (More info to come on JUNTOS; I'll be staying busy for the next year to say the least!)

Sunday night I arrived back in Messica to deal with the mess of provincial exams. I had 4 turmas of tests to grade, and quickly found out that all of my turmas cheated. Out of 150ish students in my ciências (sciences) turmas only about 7 or 8 had failing grades, which is quite impossible because on their first test of the trimester only about 20 had passing grades. I also talked to a few of the students in those classes and they told me that there were people in the class dictating the answers to the whole class when the proctoring professor wasn't there.

There were even more problems with my letras (letters) turma because the exam was not printed correctly and almost all of the questions were unanswerable. By the time it was corrected during the exam (the questions were written on the board), the students had about 20 minutes to do the whole 90 minute exam. Everyone in my letras turma failed the test, but that does not mean that they didn't cheat. Almost everyone missed the exact same questions, putting the same answers for everything including the extended response answers.

What. A. Mess.

Today, I went to the school to hand back the tests and talk to the students. In each turma, there were less than a third of the students present. I handed back the tests, telling them the overwhelming amounts of passing grades. I told them I knew that almost all of them cheated and there was no use denying it because it was obvious. Luckily, next trimester we will not have provincial exams, which means I will be writing both tests of the trimester. I told the students that their consequence of cheating on this test is that for both of the tests of next trimester, I will not let them correct their tests. I told them if they really know the material like their scores on the provincial exams suggest, that should not be a problem for them. No one really had anything to say about that. There was no complaining or saying that it wasn't fair, which was a relief. I'm just happy that from here on out I will be proctoring and writing my own tests.

Tomorrow I will be giving two make-up tests, calculating final grades, and turning my grades in. Thursday I'm heading to Chimoio, Friday to Beira for a conference of REDES which is a Peace Corps secondary project for empowering girls in Mozambique, Sunday to Guruso for a conference for writing grants for Peace Corps so I can try to construct a basketball court in Messica, and finally on Wednesday I will be heading up to Gurue to spend a few days with my Peace Corps besties!

July 7, 2013

Quick Update

Things have calmed down considerably for me since my last post, both politically and otherwise.  All of the evacuated volunteers have returned to site, and the situation continues to be monitored by Peace Corps.  

The past two days I have spent mostly laying in bed watching TV shows, not because I'm sick, but just because there's not much else to do (and it's nice after the few weeks of craziness).  This coming week the students will be taking provincial exams.  I haven't been called yet for any sort of assistance from the school, which is both shocking and awesome.  I did kind of hope to proofread the math exam this trimester before it gets printed and handed out with one fifth of the questions so horribly written that they're impossible to answer, but it doesn't look like that will be happening.  Oh well.  

So Monday through Wednesday of this week I will be proctoring exams.  Proctoring exams is the worst, so I am by no means excited about this.  But luckily, the JUNTOS conference is just in time for me to miss half of testing week! I will be heading to Maputo on Thursday and staying until Sunday.  Hopefully I will be able to see my host sister, Nucha while I'm there!

After returning to Messica next week I will have a marathon of grading exams and calculating final grades, then I will be traveling for the last couple weeks of July.  I am so excited!  I don't know when I'll have a chance to update next, so I just wanted say that things are back to normal, and gearing up to get crazy again here soon!  

Keep Mozambique in your prayers, please!

July 1, 2013

Unrest and Stress

I have one word to describe the last week and a half: stressful.

Last Thursday, I heard of some renewed political unrest between the two rival political groups in Mozambique, FRELIMO (the currently governing party) and RENAMO (the opposition). RENAMO was attempting to cut ties between the northern part of the country and the southern part of the country by blockading the one and only road that connects them. They blocked off a huge section of the EN1 spanning from the Save river at the base of Sofala province to the city on the EN6 (the same road that I live on, but about 100 kilometers east of me) called Inchope. Not only is this a huge inconvenience, it is very alarming to all of the Mozambican citizens that lived through the civil war that took more than a million Mozambican lives and ended a short 20 years ago.  Here's some more information on what's currently going on in Mozambique.

In the middle of hearing of all this confusion, I was a little preoccupied because the next morning I had plans to head up towards Malawi, where I would be visiting my friend, Paige, and enjoying my long weekend away from school. I texted the security officer of Peace Corps here in Mozambique and made sure I was still good to travel, and was granted permission to travel. Friday morning, I woke up early, walked to the EN6 and hitchhiked my way up to Tete City in the province of Tete which is directly north of Manica. Upon arriving in Tete, I met up with two other volunteers that live there, walked around, ate a delicious burger, and enjoyed a hot shower and American music videos in our hostel. The next morning, I got up and endured a 12ish hour day of traveling, starting in Tete and ending in Lilongwe with many stops and bus transfers and a border crossing in between. One problem I had that was after arriving in Malawi, it was very hard (and expensive) to get in touch with anyone, so Paige and I had a heck of a time working out plans and where we would meet. We eventually agreed that when I arrived, I would call her and she would come meet me and take me to the hotel. The only problem was that I had absolutely no phone credit to call her and let her know that I had arrived. Luckily I received a text saying which hotel we would be staying in that night, so after arriving at the bus stop in Lilongwe (far after I had anticipated arriving...oh traveling in Africa), I grabbed a taxi to take me to the hotel.

With the help of a security guard of the hotel, I found my way up to the reception desk to ask which room Paige was staying in, and ended up running right into Paige! After sharing a hug that was about 9 months overdue, we put my stuff down in the second nicest hotel room I've seen in Africa, and spent the evening catching up, eating dinner, and I took a glorious and long hot shower. The next morning was Paige's birthday and a Sunday, so we ventured out to find the Catholic church closest to our hotel where we were told mass in English would start at 6 am. When we arrived, we found out church actually started at 8 am. We killed some time and then I enjoyed my first mass in English in 9 months. It was wonderful and refreshing and I was so happy! The rest of the day consisted of shopping around, drinking milkshakes, eating pizza, and making our way back to the health complex (seemed like mini-America to me) that Paige was staying at about 40 kilometers west of Lilongwe. That's where we stayed the next two days, playing with children, reading, and just enjoying each others' company. It would have been all good and fun, except for the fact that all the while my mind was somewhat on what was happening back in Mozambique. Being in Malawi was wonderful, but I couldn't help feeling out of touch and far away. I knew that I was safer in Malawi with the violence going on in Moz, but that didn't stop me from feeling like I should have been back home in Messica, or at least back in Moz. My plan was to leave Malawi on June 25th, which happens to be Mozambique's independence day, but given all of the violence and uncertainty that was happening in Mozambique, I decided with the security officer that it would be better to stay in Malawi the extra day just in case RENAMO would try to use independence day to make some sort of statement.

On the 26th, I left Malawi (happy that I went and happy to be getting back to Moz) and headed back to Tete City. I went back a different way than I came, cutting 3 hours off of the travel time. After crossing the border back into Mozambique, I once again had communication, which was amazing. Soon after, however, I got a text from one of my friends from Tete (who had been consolidated from her site to the city) saying that there was a rumor of violence on the roads in Tete. So though I was happy to be back in Mozambique, there is only one main road in Tete and I happened to be on it. I promptly started praying that I would get to Tete safely. After about 5 hours that seemed like 15 and many police stops, I arrived in the city and made my way to the hostel.

We tried to watch the news and find out any information on the most recent attacks, but one of the things about Mozambique that is most frustrating is the lack of communication within this country. There are so many rumors that get passed around by word of mouth, but you have no idea what is true and what isn't. One of the rumors that we were hearing was that there was some violence that day in Changara, a city that I would need to pass through to get back to Messica. So the fear started once again. The security officer did some research, and though he found nothing, I didn't have a bus ticket, so if I were to have left the following day, I would have had to make a transfer in Changara. I decided that was not a risk I was willing to take, and I bought a bus ticket the next morning for the following day (Friday morning). So Thursday I spent the day in Tete. Thursday evening there were more rumors about shootings in Tete that day in Changara, but I was too tired of hearing rumors that could never be confirmed or denied and too anxious to get back in Messica to stay in Tete any longer. I decided that I was going, and I prayed that I would get home safely.

Friday morning at about 3:30 am I made my way to the bus station and boarded my bus to Chimoio. After an uneventful bus ride, I arrived at the intersection for Messica at about 9 am. I got off the bus and immediately found a chapa to Messica. I was in Messica by about 9:30, and in my house at about 10. Thank you, Jesus!

Oh yeah, and with all of that traveling nonsense going on, I also got word that we officially were still on for my JUNTOS workshop in Messica starting Friday night and going through until Monday morning. So after arriving in Messica on Friday morning, I started rushing around getting all of the last minute things done for the workshop. I spent a lot of time at the school getting supplies organized, getting the rooms situated, and trying to ensure things would go off without a hitch.

Around 4:30 in the afternoon, groups started arriving from Manica, Chimoio, Gondola, and Catandica. There were 30 students in total including our 6 from Messica. The workshop started around 5 or 5:30. Everyone was there on time besides the Messica kids (go figure) and many of the counterparts. The Messica students eventually showed up, but the counterparts were pretty flaky (there were 2 good ones, including mine) and remained flaky for most of the weekend. One of the things that was most stressful was that the counterparts were upset about the conditions at the school (the students were sleeping on the floor on bamboo mats) and they were yelling and saying they were unacceptable, even though they had been informed about the sleeping situation before they came and they were instructed to bring blankets with them. I don't really understand. But luckily one of the mae's from church that I hired to cook for the weekend came to the rescue and offered to take the few girls that came from out of town for the conference to sleep at her house. The Messica students went to their houses to sleep, and then the boys from out of town slept on the floor of the only super secure and warmest room that we have at the school. The counterparts still had things to complain about, but we did all we could to accommodate our guests. The maes did a wonderful job cooking for the weekend and they made everything run smoothly. Besides not having Mozambicans to run most of the sessions, the workshop went well and I think most of the students enjoyed themselves. We ended up shortening the workshop a little bit and ended on Sunday afternoon. After splitting up all of the leftovers among the mae's and paying them (they were so happy they cried), I headed home and went to bed at 7 o'clock.

Overall, I feel like everything that I organized actually went extremely well, but of course there were also complaints. Today I'm using to rest a little bit, and get caught up with my work for school. This week is a review week, then we have provincial exams next week (oh joy), and then I have a conference in Maputo the weekend after for JUNTOS because I will be the new Co-Coordinator of JUNTOS for the central region of Mozambique.

After that, things are still a little confusing because we still don't know exactly going on with the political unrest. I am praying for things to calm down, but honestly no one knows what's going to happen at this point. Can't even believe I've been here for over 9 months.

Prayers are welcomed and appreciated!