This past week I had the pleasure of visiting a currently serving volunteer in the city of Xai-Xai, which is the provincial capital of Gaza, the next province northeast of Maputo province. The purpose of the site visit is to spend time with a currently serving volunteer and see firsthand the daily life and experience. I learned many things about Mozambique, the peace corps and what it takes to be a “successful” volunteer, which was exactly the point of the visit! I also learned a lot about what I don’t want in a site placement, and that I would definitely be a better fit in certain lines of work over others. Next week we receive our site placements which will basically determine where I will live for the next two years, so this week we have interviews with the placement officers to give input and discuss where we want to go.
One thing I learned is that my service here in Mozambique and my ability to have an impact in a community will depend entirely upon my motivation to be involved and develop projects. The good thing about the site visit is that I was talking directly to a currently serving volunteer without all the administrative filters; I was receiving real information. I heard many stories of volunteers arriving at their sites to find that their placement organizations ran out of funds or had a basically nonexistent presence in the community. Some volunteers took this as an opportunity to go to the beach every weekend and “chill out”, while others went out into their communities and essentially made their own placements with other organizations. Things are much different here in Mozambique, things move much more slowly and it is common for volunteers to not have any work do to for up to weeks at a time. Therefore many volunteers work with 2-4 community organizations at a time in order to diversify and the have the greatest impact. To restate what I learned, my experience here rests entirely upon my shoulders to make it what I want it to be and be as involved as ide like. This definitely excites me, because I certainly feel very motivated to share knowledge and experience in whatever capacity I can.
Some things that I really did not like about my site visit was the large city experience of Xai-Xai. This city has a population of around 250,000 people (which is large for Moz) and is dirty, loud, polluted and had a very impersonal feel. We were constantly being hustled by people on the street and stared at for being the rare white person in town. The upside is that being in a large city you have access to basically all kinds of foods and or personal goods that you could want. However as we were strolling through the western style grocery store I realized that there was absolutely nothing that I wanted that I couldn’t get in a tiny town market. I am perfectly happy eating the Mozambican staple ingredients of peanuts, coconuts, leafy green veggies, beans, rice and fruit. The luxuries of the city may appeal to some, but not to me. One of the days of the visit we went to the beach, which was my first experience of the Indian Ocean here in Mozambique. It was absolutely gorgeous, warm crystal clear blue water and most importantly, good waves! It was torture to watch perfect surf peel unridden up and down the beach, but I am sure that when I am on my own I will make it a point to surf as much as possible. The potential in this country for finding the perfect wave is immense and I am really excited for the challenge.
The volunteer that I visited works with 3 different organizations in many different capacities, mostly giving health talks, doing home visits to people living with HIV and a gardening project. She works in an orphanage, a community based development organization and the local hospital. I followed her around for two work days to see her work and meet her counterparts. We made home visits, attended a community talk about sexual networks and visited all the offices of her workplaces.
During one of the home visits in the community we visited a household with a father living with HIV, a grandmother and several small children. The mother did not live there. The father could not work due to his illness, the grandmother was elderly and fragile and the children were too young to work. We walked up on the family shelling pigeon peas in their front yard, that they had recently collected from their neighbors. This was going to be their only food source for the day, and they had no other food for tomorrow or the day after. I had a profound realization that due to my status as a volunteer, being provided with food and shelter, I can only intellectually understand this family’s situation. I will never be able to feel what it’s like to not have any food and not know where my next meal will come from. I will always have food in my home at the end of the day, or at least the means to obtain it. There will always be this barrier of privilege that will separate me from the people that I interact with on a daily basis. This was one of these, what I like to call, “why me?” moments in which I can only ask the question of why was I born into the situation I was, and not here in Mozambique foraging my neighbors yards for the refuse of their meals and unwanted produce? This wasn’t the first time I had seen hungry people, but it was the first time that I realized that I will probably never be able to understand their world as they see it and live it. Just sitting with the family though, talking, joking, laughing, helping shell the peas did seem to leave them in better spirits, but do better spirits translate into abating the throbs of hunger pains? Maybe a little.
The first photo is from Xai-Xai to show the difference in terrain; much sandier, hotter and flatter than Namaacha. The other photos are a health talk given in the community and at the volunteers office with her supervisor.