Mozambique #7 Bemvindo Manjacaze

So it has been an interesting and extremely novel past two weeks. I arrived in Manjacaze last Sunday and have since been exploring, meeting with my organizations, orientating to the town and just basically figuring out how to live here! More on that later.

One of the organizations that I will be working for is called MOZAIC and is a South African organization that works through a network of churches to aid Mozambicans in health and nutrition, agriculture, income generation projects and church planting. It appears to be quite well organized, well funded and has a great vision and mission here in Mozambique. I will be assisting in the health/nutrition and agriculture projects with the goal of holding seminars and dispensing information to the public about health topics, conservation farming, medicinal plants and food security. I am really excited to work with this organization because through their network of churches they have connections to really rural communities here in Gaza. I will have the opportunity to go out to these rural communities and give talks on agriculture and health topics. We also plan to start a plant nursery program where we dispense highly nutritious and easily grown plants to the people that attend our training sessions. MOZAIC also sponsors several income generating projects here in Manjacaze and also in the surrounding communities. We have several cashew processing projects as well as a jam making co-op. The organization helps by finding markets for these products locally as well as in South Africa. The opportunities to start new projects and expand current ones are really exciting with this organization.

The other organization that I will be working with is called Tchavelela, and is a locally founded and run organization that does homevisits to people living with HIV/AIDS as well as searches for people who have faulted on their anti-retro viral therapy. The coordinator is very well known around town and is a wonderful woman. There is a lot of opportunity to work with youth, give talks on health topics and nutrition as well as meet influential people within the community. Another great aspect of Tchavelela is that the coordinator runs the local radio station as well! I am going to have the opportunity to have my own weekly radio show where I can basically talk about whatever I want. I am already thinking of themes and ideas for this radio show and there is a lot of freedom in what can be done.

Manjacaze itself is located about 1.5 hours up a dirt road from the provincial capital of Xai-Xai. There is not a single paved road in the entire town, the streets are made from an imported red hard packed sand. The town itself is very pleasant with a nice park in the main section of town and all the municipal and government buildings sitting at the top of a hill overlooking a beautiful swamp/wetland. Every morning at sunrise there is a layer of fog misting over the wetland as herons and other birds end their nightly roost and swarm over the lake. The town has a great market full of produce (this time of year), fruit, hardware stores (term used very loosely) and other little shops. Its a lot of fun wandering through the market talking to all the women selling the produce. I’ve learned there is no such thing as a quick trip to the market as I always seem to get involved in some sort of conversation or get sidetracked to ask about some strange looking vegetable that I’ve never seen before.

When I arrived at my house (3 rooms, constructed of a type of reed that grows locally here with a plaster layer on the inside), the only things inside were a bed, 2 chairs and a table. Assembling the necessities of a house has been a very interesting process. What would take one hour at target has took over a week. One day I had to travel 4 hours by chapa (the name of the little vans that are used for public transportation) to buy a gas stove. I have also discovered that formal shelving is virtually nonexistent here in Mozambique. I had to improvise by making shelves attached to the wall of my house with wooden boards and metal wire. There is no running water or sink in the house, so I wash my dishes in plastic buckets and hand pull my water with a rope and bucket from my neighbors well. I heat water on the stove to shower out of a bucket. I now understand why having a large family to share the workload with is so useful in maintaining a household. Daily life is fairly difficult here, there are very few conveniences. This of course was to be expected, but now I totally understand the desire for mechanization and efficiency in daily chores. I have spent the past 2 weeks basically just figuring out the most time efficient ways of doing all the household chores; chores that don’t exist in the U.S. due to the convenience factor of development. I am certainly not complaining, I just feel that I now understand a bit better the normal daily life of the masses on this planet.

I have really been enjoying cooking local Mozambican dishes, such as collard greens with coconut and peanuts, coconut beans and other various dishes. These dishes require special equipment to shred the coconut (a stool type apparatus with a sharp grater fixed to one end) and pound the peanuts into a flour (done in a giant wooden mortar). I have been selectively going around to all my neighbors and borrowing their equipment, which is a great way to meet them and share culture. First off, very few Mozambican men can cook, so the women are immediately skeptical of my ability to cook. My requests to borrow things are usually met with amused skepticism and curiosity. Then when I demonstrate my practiced and perfected abilities to shred the coconut and pound the peanuts they are further surprised and delighted. Whenever my dish is finished I always bring over a big serving for the family to share, and to prove that yes indeed the white man can cook! And I am not trying to brag, but I honestly think I can make some of the Mozambican dishes exactly like a Mozambican woman would, if not better. I cannot wait to bring this new amazingly delicious cuisine back to the U.S.

The next 2 months will be spent further orienting to Manjacaze, my organizations and planning for the future. There have been so many random little events, great conversations and new experiences that its impossible to share everything, but I am living well here, orientating, enjoying and really excited for this placement. I feel that this community and these organizations are a great match for my interests, skillsets and desires.

Pictures are of my new colleagues, my house (which has already been altered as I’ve planted tons of  papayas, chaya, bananas, moringa and other awesome plants, as well as beginning to prepare my garden plot). Also pictures of the Main street Manjacaze , my kitchen, and me feeling self-sufficient with the first meal of delicious lentils and rice in the new home.

Take care!

Mozambique #6 End of Training / Swearing In

After much anticipation, on Wednesday August 8th, I was officially sworn in by the US ambassador to Mozambique as a peace corps volunteer. The ceremony took place in Maputo and was well attended by various politicians, directors of countless organizations and other figureheads that are somehow related to peace corps. One interesting occurrence that took place was that as new volunteers we were requested to sing the Mozambican national anthem to commence the ceremony. We are all vaguely familiar with the verses and more or less know the total chorus, but we were told beforehand that we would receive the total lyrics printed to read. We were also told that every Mozambican attending the ceremony would generously lend their voice to assist… As you may have sensed a bit of foreshadowing, unfortunately neither of these promises were kept. We stood there in front of 50 dignitaries, diplomats, Mozambicans and Americans and absolutely muddled the entire the national anthem (which is ridiculously long might I add). During the verses you could basically hear a murmur of words, the vaguest humming of a tune and the racket of the construction site next door. Only to rebound with loud, inspiring choruses worthy of praise from any Mozambican national. I was sitting in the front row and had the pleasure/pain of watching as the crowd cringed and suppressed laughter during this whole process. But we were sworn in nonetheless!

So now I am in Maputo where over the next several days about half of the volunteers will fly north to their sites, and the rest will stay here in Maputo to have conferences with our organizational counterparts that we will be working with for the next two years. I am super excited to meet my Mozambican counterparts, as on my site assignment it was mentioned that they are very enthusiastic. I have several days as well to explore Maputo and stock up on hard-to-find things way out in the bush (like brown rice, which I found here in Maputo!) I leave for Manjacaze on Sunday, to start a totally new phase of my life which I am super excited for and definitely ready.

On that note, the training experience for me can be summed up as being a lot like how I experience my life in general; lots of really incredible moments where I felt a sense of joy, wholeness, wonder, love, adventure and purpose; plenty of suffering (unfortunately much of this suffering was gastrointestinal), discontent, frustration and anger; but always with the knowledge that this situation was impermanent. For me the training experience was an extended test of patience; with myself, with my fellow trainees, with the training staff, with my Mozambican family and the Mozambican culture. It was a tremendously interesting learning experience that overall I enjoyed, but am in absolutely no hurry to repeat!

One amazing aspect of my experience was my host family. Their continuous openness to share everything they had, teach me, learn from me and their eagerness to facilitate my cultural assimilation was astounding. I had made them all pose for a group photo with me, which I had blown up and framed. The last night I gave this to them and read a thank you letter that I had composed that left the whole family teary eyed. We already have tentative plans for a Christmastime get together.(which here is called Dia da Familia out of political correctness!) I will truly miss them!

But on the other side I am so ready to live alone again! After two months of having your bathwater heated for you, your lunch waiting for you on the table etc, it just becomes too much! In some ways I feel less prepared than when I got here just because of the amazingly hospitable treatment I received. I will have my own house and yard in Manjacaze, and two years to play with them!

Unfortunately in my opinion, from a technical training aspect, the last several weeks of training were much too redundant and largely would have been better left for me to read the lessons on my own. I say that a large aspect of training was an exercise of patience because many of our classes were spent trying to find 6 ways to convey the same idea, or were spent waiting outside during “breaks” or for classes to commence. The technical sessions about health subjects in the Mozambican context were very effective and I enjoyed them, but in my opinion I could have managed my time much more efficiently myself and had more time to study Portuguese, or spend more time in the community.

But its all over now, and so I am ready for this new exciting phase to begin. Stay tuned as my next post will be an introduction to Manjacaze!

Photos are  the family photo I had blown up, from a party that our host families threw for us. (food shot for you foodies! and Me and my Father in our matching Tunics that he insisted we have made for the party!) Also photos are of the group right before swearing in and a shot with my future site mate!