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.