Greetings from Africa! I am very excited to be able to share my experiences with friends and family through this medium of blogging. If you haven’t already, you can sign up to receive email updates every time I update with a post. At some point during my 2.5 years here in Mozambique I will probably ask for help whether it be ideas or monetary support so please feel free to contribute if and when the call is made.
In a nut shell here is the story so far:
After a grueling 30 hours of travel (counting layovers) the group of peace corps volunteers and I finally arrived at the Maputo airport to discover that there had been some sort of mistake and nobody knew that we were coming that day! There was a lot of scrambling on the part of the peace corps staff to find accommodations for lodging and transportation but they managed to pull it together and we got set up in a luxury hotel complex in Maputo. When I say luxury I mean by American standards; this place was loaded with a gym, pool, bar, restaurant and spa. I was extremely surprised to find PC spending this kind of money but I certainly was not going to complain. The next two days in Maputo were spent orienting us to the PC mission, getting immunized for every possible illness on the planet, discussing the health program expectations, outlining the training schedule and getting to know all of my fellow classmates with whom I will spend the next 10 weeks. It was a lot of fun and definitely got me very excited to experience more.
Sunday morning we left the safety of our luxury compound and headed out into the real world…where almost immediately I saw people sleeping in the streets, eating garbage, burning things and just generally contributing to the standard 3rd world scene of people standing around not really doing anything. We headed to Namaacha, which is a scattered town of 15 thousand people about 1km from the border with Swaziland. We arrived to a singing group of host “parents” who all mobbed the bus to find their respective sons and daughters. I am living in the household of a most humble, welcoming and gracious Mozambican gentlemen, O Senhor Ricardo. In this household there are both a 15 year old girl(niece) and boy(son), an 18 year old daughter and a 20 something year old cousin. Everyone is so nice and friendly it is mind blowing. I was taken for a walk around town with the family which basically was like being put on display as they gossiped with all their friends about the fact that I didn’t drink milk or eat meat. It was great fun speaking Portuguese to everyone and I was thoroughly impressed with how much I could communicate, but there is still a lot of work to be done. We all ate together, (vegetable soup, potatoes and fish) and I fielded questions as best as I could about American culture and customs. The family is really fantastic and they are trying very hard to accommodate me in any way they can. I feel that it’s a very warm and friendly environment with neighbors constantly stopping over to chat or borrow something. The streets are quiet and clean, everywhere feels super safe and the community is absolutely bursting at the seams with amazing fruit trees everywhere!
Compared to a lot of villages I experienced in Guatemala, this is an affluent area. Most houses in this neighborhood have electricity in every room, indoor toilets and electric or gas stoves. A few have outdoor pit latrines and the families cook with charcoal. I was actually surprised to find this level of affluence here in addition to seeing the amazing fertility of the Earth. Everywhere you look something is in bloom, fruiting or being planted.
The daily training schedule goes something like this: I get up at 6 am and go for a run around Namaacha while the streets are still quiet and the world is just waking up. It is surprisingly cold here though, ide say high 40’s at night and high 60’s during the day. I return to the house after an hour run and take a bath with water that’s been heated on the stove. This involves standing in the bathtub and pouring water over myself with a small cup. I then eat breakfast with whomever is around, grab a snack (lanche in Portuguese) and head to one of my colleagues houses where a group of four of us have our language lessons. We have conversations, do activities, practice grammar and joke around a lot. Everything is in Portuguese with zero English spoken.
In the past I have spoken of how I watched my mind transform the Spanish language into meaningful speech, and this time with Portuguese the process is no less spectacular. Within two days I was understanding 80%-90% of conversations I was having with people and able to respond to the majority of situations. I don’t give my brains innate linguistic capability enough of the credit it truly deserves. I think that within 2 months I will be at a level sufficient to work in country and definitely within 2 years I will be able to get into some serious abstraction and philosophizing.
So throughout the day we take several breaks from the language training to eat lunch, rest, walk around or just generally hang out. The day is finished by 4:30 pm at which I usually return home to do some more exercise, walk around chatting with people or go to the market to watch the passing scenery. Learning a new language in total immersion is absolutely mentally exhausting because simply functioning in conversation and in concordance with people around you takes so much effort. Therefore I enjoy the evenings to listen to music, study on my own and generally not get involved in any serious Portuguese conversations. As fluency is achieved this feeling will definitely abate, but for now I am finding it quite taxing.
The focus of training in the beginning is on achieving sufficient communication skills within our households and within the community. Soon we will begin the technical training portion that involves learning about different community development models, the role of the PC volunteer and training specific to HIV/AIDS, malaria, nutrition and pre-natal care. I look forward to this as this is my area of expertise and I am excited to see the type of curriculum that PC provides.
An interesting aspect of Mozambican culture is how well the Mozambicans treat their guests and how they take so much pride in being gracious hosts. For example, the first night I arrived, after dinner we sat in the living room listening to music and chatting. In American culture we are used to being very direct with our questions and in communicating our desires and wants. Here this is simply not the case. Many things are alluded to and one has to sort of figure out requests and questions. So the first night me and 6 Mozambican are sitting in the living room going over our daily schedules and my hostfather says… “irmão Evan” (brother Evan)…”so we were wondering…what time do you usually like to eat dinner?” Dead silence, all eyes turn to me. I quickly realized that due to the generous hospitable nature of my family, whatever time I said would be the time that we ate dinner together every night. Not wanting to totally commandeer their daily routine to my preferences and habits I responded “well…what time do you guys like to eat”? Father responds “oh no we really want to make sure you’re comfortable, I insist that we eat when you want”. While I greatly appreciated the hospitality I was certainly not going to make my schedule a priority for this entire family. This was an especially big deal as the family always eats together every night, in a quite formal affair. So I suggested that we take a vote to determine the time that fit everyone’s schedules best. “A great idea!” the family exclaims. I turn to the youngest son, “so what time would you like to eat?” 8 o’clock he responds. The father is next, 8 o’clock is the verdict again. We go around the entire family with a unanimous vote of 8 o’clock as the favored time to eat. All eyes turn to me as its now my turn to vote. I slightly hesitate to let the suspense build as the family fidgets nervously on the edge of their seats, eyes wide in expectation. I respond slowly, “well… how about 8 o clock?” The family is ecstatic! Victory cheers go up all around, lots of laughing and I sense a feeling of relief from the family; I could discern from their reactions that 8 o’clock was their habitual dining hour and so it would remain! I told this story to the other volunteers the next day when we were talking in a group setting. “Evan brings democracy to Africa!” was a great comment someone made. I am sure the family dynamic will change as we get used to eachother more, but this story was a perfect example of the amazing hospitality and generosity that I have already experienced here.
Stay tuned, some interesting stories and insights into Mozambique coming up when I can find a more reliable internet connection as there is only 1 connection this entire town!