For the last month or so, Mozambique has been in the process of conducting it’s fourth national census. The census occurs every 10 years, and since the last one in 2007, the population of Mozambique is estimated to have risen by more than 7 million. I remember once as a kid (probably during the 2000 census in America) sitting down with my mom at the kitchen table as she filled out our little census booklet at home. With no real functioning mail system, and the fact that many people cannot read and write, the census here is carried out mostly by teachers, who physically walk from house to house and sit with the families to complete the booklet. Because the primary work force on the ground is teachers, primary and secondary schools have a 5 week break for the census to be carried out. Unfortunately for me, our work here at the IFP is “too important” to stop (direct quote from my co-worker when I asked why we don’t get this break) and I have been stuck at school while pretty much every other education volunteer in Moz has had a 5 week vacation.
This week, the census workers apparently made it to Nakhololo, and were promptly escorted to our house, literally the only house in the entire town that contains non-residents. As we explained to the census worker and the school employee who escorted him to our house that we cannot participate because we are not residents, we were told that a resident is anyone who is residing in Mozambique at the time of the census… making us residents. They also said we would be “setting a good example for the community” by participating in this important event.
We were both in the process of lesson planning and quickly tried to clear a space on our very cluttered table for the census worker. Most of the questions were pretty straight forward such as name, age, race, religion, etc. There were some questions about whether we grow plants, and the worker laughed and surreptitiously marked “no” when I showed him my tiny sprig of a basil plant. There were also questions about how and how often we access the internet, whether we have a bank account, and if we use online banking. All and all, it was a pretty painless process, but was kind of interesting to have the census experience that everyone has been talking about for the last month.
This week my students were giving group presentations on a variety of topics from the “Chemistry, Physics, and Natural Phenomenon,” unit that we are currently studying. Topics included simple machines, light, types of energy, work, and thunder and lightning.
When assigning groups, I was a little disappointed that what I thought was going to be the easiest topic (thunder and lightning) went to the group of my 5 smartest students. I figured this presentation would be way quicker than the allotted 20 minutes, so I decided to start with it in hopes of making up for time that I knew would be lost with the more complicated topics.
Things started off pretty well, the group explained that lightning occurs due to a difference in charge between the clouds and the ground and why the sound of thunder occurs before moving onto how you can protect yourself during a lightning storm. As the presentation had been going so smoothly, I was only half paying attention when I hear Stella, my best female student, warning of the dangers associated with wearing a red shirt during a storm.
Assuming I had misheard, I asked her to repeat herself, and confirmed that yes, wearing a red shirt makes you a target for lightning to strike.
Trying to be somewhat neutral, I jokingly corrected them saying, “That sounds like a myth about lighting… In America we say that lightning cannot strike the same place twice but this is a myth!”
This created total chaos in the classroom, as the students began arguing that not only can wearing a red shirt put you in danger, but also that lightning cannot in fact strike the same place twice. In an attempt to regain control of the classroom I ended our discussion on lightning and told them that in our next class, we would continue the topic.
I started the next class by creating a full list of things that the students believed make you vulnerable to lighting which included:
Wearing a red shirt
Eating a mango
Standing in a doorway
Being in a car
Talking on a phone (cell phones included)
Walking with a dog
Luckily for me, Brazil apparently experiences more lightning strikes per year than any other country, so there were plenty of resources online for me to use to broach the subject of scientific based lightning safety. I explained that being in a car during a lightning storm is actually very safe, because the tires protect you in the same way wearing shoes protects you from shocks when using a shifty phone charger or electric stove. While I think they more or less bought this explanation, they remained skeptical when I tried explaining that lightning doesn’t know what you’re wearing and doesn’t care what you’re eating. Several students offered personal accounts of their encounters with lightning: one students solemnly stood up and told a story his grandmother was eating a mango during a storm and was struck and killed in 2012. Another student shared how when he was younger he was walking and texting during a thunderstorm and his phone became “red hot” and exploded as he threw it to the ground, and his hands were burned.
I left this class feeling like I may have failed, which was swiftly confirmed when I went home and graded my most recent set of quizzes, which included brilliant responses such as this:
When my host pai died in March, my mãe had to move in with other family members who could support her and her children. Unfortunately, this move happened suddenly and while I was away from site; I had no clue where they went and no way to contact her, and hadn’t seen any of my host family since the funeral.
Imagine my surprise this morning when I hear my mãe calling my name and running across the street while I was waiting on the side of the side of the EN1 for a ride. After quick greetings my mãe sends her nieces off to begin collecting the laundry and walks me to her new house, where I was almost in tears as my little host sisters ran up to jump in my arms and greet me. I guess the unreliable transportation situation in Moz isn’t always a bad thing.
There are lots of people who like to talk about how there’s nothing you really need to bring with you to Peace Corps, because clearly people in your host country get along just fine without things from America, and so can you. While this is *technically* true and you can buy Oreos and Pantene shampoo in Shoprite, I am the kind of person who stressed for months about creating my Peace Corps packing list. Although you can see my original list here (with a few added notes) I’ve decided to make this post with some of the things I brought or had sent to me in care packages that have become essential parts of my life here in Moz.
Best Things I Packed
Travelon Anti-Theft Purse – I knew I was never going to bring my beloved Dagne Dover Tote of YSL crossbody with my to Moz, and spent a lot of time trying to find a purse I would like when my Aunt mentioned seeing these Travelon purses on QVC. I definitely felt a little silly ordering this bag with all of it’s anti-theft features, when it comes down to it, it’s a durable, small, simple purse great for everyday use here. Plus in the end I have been grateful multiple times for the clip-closed zippers when pick pocketers have been caught (unsuccessfully) attempting to open it.
Bestek Universal Travel Adaptor – 100% the most valuable electronic I brought with me and worth every penny. Nearly every volunteer in my group has a Bestek and I think we all feel pretty strongly about their necessity. It conveniently has a ton of plugs, and I feel safe plugging all my stuff in even with the shoddy electricity here.
Set of sheets – Peace Corps gives you sheets during training but they don’t include a fitted sheet, which if you don’t like having to make your bed every day sucks. Although you might not know what size bed your house will come with, most people have a full or twin, so getting a full set is a safeish bet.
Starbucks Via Instant Coffee – It’s so much better than any instant coffee you can buy here, takes up like no space, and the individual packets just make it so much more convenient for traveling. It’s also so good to make into iced coffee which is the only way I got through hot season.
Necessary items that should be obvious:
External hard drive
A ton of underwear
Best Care Package Items
Kirkland Bacon Bits – This was def one of those care package items that I saw and thought, “Uhhh.. thanks Mom but how am I going to use a pound of bacon bits.” Since then I have used all of the first bag and requested more. These bacon bits are not like the other bacon bits (aka they’re real actual crumbled bacon) and taste so so good. They’re the perfect addition to my onion omelettes and I have developed a quasi-carbonara pasta recipe using them as well.
Pesto – Helps break up the tomato sauce monotony. Plus it’s green so I kind of feel like I’m eating a vegetable?
Mac N Cheese Powder (by the pound) – Yeah, I eat a lot of pasta. But this stuff is diverse, it also serves as a great topping for popcorn and I’ve made it into a *unique* type of nacho cheese sauce for tacos once and it wasn’t that bad. Its so good that at least two other volunteers who have come to my house and seen this have requested it in care packages.
Bags – I don’t know if its a girl thing or a Leslie thing or what, but at home I had a lot of bags for every occasion. Backpacks, totes, purses, pouches etc. When I arrived in Moz I was down to a huge hiking backpack, a tiny “weekender” backpack and my purse. While you can purchase/have bags made from capulana here, I wish I would’ve brought a couple more with me. I had my mom send me this foldable backpack and a couple of reusable grocery bags. They’re cheap and lightweight and take up no room, so I always throw them in my bag when I’m going to the market or city to pick up food and supplies.
White t-shirts – It’s really hard to keep white clothes white here. In almost every care package my mom includes one white t-shirt or tank top, and I feel way less guilty about finally throwing out the one that I’ve been wearing and is decidedly more brown than white
Foldable fan – Admittedly slightly ridiculous. But MAN does it get hot in the back of a chapa with 15 other people refusing to open the windows because they don’t want to get dusty. People laugh at me for using this but let me just point out that they are usually sweating and I am not.
Stuff to make you feel/look/smell pretty – Another one that might just be a girl or Leslie thing, but when I was packing I kept thinking in terms of practicality, rather than what I really liked. I somehow thought I would be a very different person here in Moz than I was in America, and that the whole “conservative country” thing would determine my entire wardrobe. While you do have to be more conservative while in town, most volunteers leave site at least once a month. When I’m in the city or on vacation I wear more of my “normal” clothes. Even at home, I find myself really enjoying things like face masks and good home made bars of soap and fancy candles. Some of the best care package items have been crazy lipsticks and short shorts that are definitely inappropriate for site but my favorite things to bring on vacation,and fancy Lush soaps and skin care products to treat myself with at home.
You may have noticed that recently, my blog posting has been lacking. And you may be asking yourself, “I wonder why Leslie hasn’t posted any blogs recently… I wonder if she’s been busy with the start of a new school semester and with the provincial science fair she’s been working on planning?” Or, if you’re anything like my brother, you message the family WhatsApp group demanding to know why I haven’t been giving the world timely updates on my life. And so, this post is dedicated to you Kyle. And so is the post I will eventually write about how the science fair went. I don’t know if you heard but I recently *doubled* my teaching hours (for a grand total of 6 hours a week) so it might be a while before I can find the time for another blog post.
In Nakhololo, with the majority of our food stalls and stores being without power, our options for eating meat are pretty limited. If we want chicken, we have to travel at least an hour round trip to pick up a frozen one from our district capital, or buy it in the market and kill it ourselves. Due to these circumstances, most of the meat I eat at site comes from 99 met ($1.50) packages of chorizo I stock up on at Shoprite pretty much every time I’m in Nampula city.
As much as I love chorizo, sometimes this non-perishable, processed meat just doesn’t do it for me. Sometimes Kathryn and I want to treat ourselves. And sometimes, important guests like my mom and grandma come to site and I need to try and ~impress~ them with my at site resources and cooking skills. This is where Nakhololo’s exclusive local organic all natural pork butcher, Kathryn’s very own host pai, comes in.
During our site visit, when Kathryn’s pai was explaining to us what he does, he actually referred to himself as a “pork dealer,” rather than a butcher, because he doesn’t just butcher the pigs, he goes out every morning on his motorcycle, usually with his brother along for assistance, out into the bush in search of cheap pigs to buy, bring home, and butcher. The first time I saw two grown men on a tiny motorcycle with a fully grown live pig riding between them I was shocked, but they always make it look so easy that I have somehow grown accustomed to them waving and stopping to chat if they pass me out walking while returning with that day’s pig.
Butchery in Mozambique is different to say the least. Kathryn’s pai kills the pigs in a field right behind the market where they are sold. If you happen to be walking there at around 6am on any given day you may be lucky enough to watch the pig be dragged by its hind legs, screaming, to its death. The actual death seems relatively humane by Moz standards; the pig is lain facing down a dirt incline, the throat is slit, and it bleeds out pretty quickly. Next, the skin is scorched in an attempt to remove the hair. Finally, using a dull machete, the pig is hacked into more manageable pieces and taken to the market for selling. We are lucky enough to get the family discount (120 mets/kilo) and our choice of cut. Although most Mozambicans would usually choose the fattiest pieces first, we always ask for a piece without fat and bones.
This recipe, although in no way Mozambican, is one of my absolute favorites to make here. Using a constantly diminishing supply peach balsamic vinegar that my mom has been wonderful enough to continue replenishing through my first 10 months of service, I’ve been able to make this marinade several times and love it more each time.
Peach Balsamic Pork Marinade
1/4 cup peach balsamic vinegar
Big bunch fresh basil, chopped (or dried if your cat ate your basil plant and you were too disheartened to try and grow it again)
2-3 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper to taste ~1 teaspoon each
1 kilo pork meat with bones, skin, and hair removed, butterflied/sliced thin to cook quicker
Since you’ve gotta get to the market early in the morning before it sells out, I usually prepare the mixture and let it marinate all day. Once it’s time to cook it I light up the carvão (charcoal) grill, and wait for the coals to burn down until they’re glowing hot, slap the meat on, and go until you’re sure all the parasites in the dirty matu pig are 100% dead. Really though, with it being winter here, it’s pretty much pitch dark by 5:30 which makes telling when the meat is ready almost impossible. My headlamp has become a valuable kitchen accessory when cooking dinner on our charcoal stove outside.
**Special shout out to my Mom and Mimi for coming and trusting my cooking of pork in Moz, hope you didn’t get any parasites. Thanks for taking this pics of me for this edition of Cooking with Lesh**
You may have noticed several references to Eléonore in this blog. Although she’s my best friend here in Moz, she lives 6-8 hours away hitchhiking, meaning we usually only get a few hours a month together. Here’s how we spend them.
This post is loosely based on the New York Times’ series: 36 Hours
Nampula City is a little known city outside of Mozambique. Reviews from Lonely Planet include the fact that Nampula “is no sultry good-looker” and Getaway admitting the city is “one of the least inspiring cities to spend time in.” Yet, it is a haven for Peace Corps Volunteers, home to three large supermarkets and one Mozambican-Chinese restaurant. It might also be the only place to find dip-cones in the north of the country, so it is no wonder that PCVs choose to spend (often times more than) 36 hours here.
Wa-Resta Chapa Stop – 13:30 pm
Wa-Resta Chapa stop is the western-most long-distance transportation stop coming into Nampula City. Situated inconveniently about 8 kilometers away from city center mixed and mashed into a local market, Wa-Resta will give you enough of the…
– Actual quote heard at a Peace Corps recruiting event –
Before coming to Moz my experience with kids was that one time I babysat my coworkers’ kids overnight. I made 3x my current monthly salary as a volunteer that night and still vowed never to babysit again.
Enter Mozambique, a country where 50% of the population is under the age of 18. All and all, I am lucky to be teaching at an IFP where all the students are adults (even though they sometimes don’t act like it,) and kids are technically banned from campus (even if they always find a way to sneak past the incredibly observant guards.)
Despite all this, it is impossible to avoid the packs of crinças here. Every time I leave campus, or when the kids are bored enough to wander through the fields behind our house and onto our back porch, I am greeted by groups of 7-10 kids ranging from a couple of months to about 10 years old. The leaders are usually the oldest girls, with the youngest of their siblings strapped to their backs, who echo their own mothers by ordering the rest of the group around when things are getting out of hand or there is a dispute over the proper usage of crayons.
Although I feel like I’ve come a long way in my tolerance of kids, this isn’t a story about how I’ve become some type of Mary Poppins. I don’t exactly like the kids, and they know it. Usually when they show up at the house, I pretend like I’m not home. After six months here, they’ve learned to just ask for Catarina.
Which brings us to today. The day when Kathryn left for two weeks for a conference in the city and a visit to America.
As per usual, some crinças who are neighbors with Kathryn’s host family stopped by before class and asked for Catarina. I inform them,
“Já foi, she’s already gone.”
They stand there and look at me quizzically, “She went to Marcia’s (Kathryn’s host sister, and their classmate,) house?”
“No, she went to the United States.”
“The United States…? Of America…? My country…?”
“You know that I am American, right?”
“SIIIIIM!” They all yelled simultaneously
“Which means that I am from another country called America”
The kids conferred a bit, and the older ones gave what I can only assume what was an explanation of the situation in Makua. After about 30 seconds, one kid asked,
Nampla city is the third largest city in Mozambique, the capital of Nampula province, and best known for its highly skilled pick pocketers. I can get from my front door to the city center in about 1.5 hours on a good day, and frequency make day trips to pick up supplies. In a recent Instagram post in which I described Nampula City as “The Happiest Place on Earth,” many other volunteers were quick to offer their personal Nampula City horror stories. Despite its largely negative reputation, I love Nampula city. It does smell like pee and thieves have attempted to pick pocket me 6 or 7 times, and I have had several encounters with the notorious “Nampula City Kisser,” who likes to hang out by the super market and kiss unsuspecting shoppers. Despite all this, Nampula City is really my happy place. Unlike my little town of Nakhololo, there’s always something going on, peole to talk to, things to buy, things to eat.
This brings us to today’s installment of Cooking with Lesh: Nampula City Central Market edition. Last week I went sent to the city for medical treatment for a scraped knee. Which sounds slightly dramatic until you see the pictures of the resulting infection which I have included here for your viewing pleasure. Luckily after 3 days under the care of the Peace Corps nurse, my knee was looking much better, and I was told I’d be returning home on Thursday. After talking with a friend who lives in the city but works in Nacala (large port city 100k down the EN8 from Nakhololo), and procuring a ride home for that afternoon, I headed to the central market to stock up on some veggies to bring back to site.
Even though we are still during the time of the year where produce should be available, our local market has remained pretty space. Cherry sized tomatoes, small red onions, okra, and the occasional knobby green pepper are pretty much the extent of what is available. Even in our district capital, we can only occasionally find things like cabbage and carrots. So when I am in the city, I usually try to bring back as much as Kathryn and I can eat before it goes bad.
I bought all that you can see in the photo abover for 300 mets, or about $5. While it might not look all that exciting, being able to get things like cabbage and carrots and peppers (all of which I never ate before coming to Moz) is often the highlight of my trip to the city.
I plan on using a good portion of the cabbage, peppers, and carrots, along with tomatoes and garlic from our local to make a huge pot of beans to eat next week. The lettuce is a huge treat, but will have to be eatten in the next day as it wilts and goes bad so quickly without refrigeration. Green beans are the vegetable that I most like to get (despite their relatively high price of 100mets or $1.50 per kilo) because they can last us a long time. With all these veggies, we will be eating good for the next week in Nakhololo!
When the school schedules were released at the beginning of the semester, the school’s pedagogical director explained that I was only given three hours to allow me time to “learn the ways of Africa.” He constantly stressed that I could request more hours at any time, which, as evidenced by the fact that I am still teaching only three hours a week, has not exactly been proven true.
I know what you’re thinking: “wait, you left everything you love in America to teach three hours a week?” Peace Corps also seems to think this is some type of issue, because every time I run into staff members on my frequent trips to Nampula, they bring up my “issues at site,” even though I can’t ever remember complaining about anything in Nakhololo to them, because when it comes down to it, I’m really living the Posh Corps life and don’t have a lot to complain about.
My completely unrestricted schedule allowes me to come up with revolutionary classroom activities such as the “Soil Competition,” we held this week, in which I unleased my students on the world in search of the most interesting soil they could find, to present to the rest of the class in hopes of winning a pack of mint knockoff Oreos.
He knew learning about dirt could be so interesting???
While only having three hours per week of teaching has made motivating myself to do anything difficult, it has also given me time to work on the Peace Corps “secondary projects.” In Mozambique there are a handful of national projects that include youth groups, English Theater competitions, and Science Fair/Club. We had two English clubs going strong, but the numbers have fizzled down and we now only have one student from my original group who still regularly attends, and as it seemed kind of awkward to have an English group with one student and two teachers, I stepped back from this, as much as I enjoyed practicing English with this student. Plus, it turns out we can’t even compete in the English Theater competition because our students have an “unfair advantage,” even though they don’t even teach English at our school.
I attended the youth group trainings in March, but kind of realized I’m not really a youth group kind of person… Which leaves me with ~*~**SCIENCE CLUB/FAIR**~*~
In January, I applied to become Nampula’s provincial science fair coordinator, and was selected along with Victoria, our nearest volunteer. This actually sounds a lot more important than it is, so far it has just involved multiple useless trips to Nampula city where (even when our counterparts show up) little gets accomplished. At least we can expense our Chinese food lunches.
Science club, on the other hand, has been probably most fulfilling project at site. I have been super lucky in that the other two science teachers at my school are both competent and super jazzed about the whole idea, and have really taken the project on as their own. More often than not, they lead the sessions while I stand in the corner smiling and nodding, which is fine by me.
The science club curriculum involves a series of 5 or so meetings and experiments designed to teach the students the scientific method, dependent and independent variables, and how to design their own project all in preparation of the national science fair. At the IFP, the first 3 weeks of the science curriculum were dedicated to pretty much teaching the same stuff, meaning we finished the curriculum in no time. With no more “official” experiments to conduct, I was over joyed when one of our students Jamal offered to show off a demonstration of his science fair project for the rest of the group. Using only ~local materials~ found in our market, he tested different types of solutions to see which would conduct electricity best to light a small LED light. It was awesome to seem him explain his use of the scientific method and apply his knowledge to a real life scenario: getting struck by lightening while swimming in the ocean. Or, more commonly, getting shocked by your electric stove while barefoot but not while wearing flip flops. His whole demonstration just made my heart happy, I was so proud of him for being able to correctly answer all the question the other students were asking him, like what his independent variable was. On Tuesday we are having a “workshop” for everyone’s projects, and I have high hopes for the rest of their experiments. They’ve been extremly secretive about what they’re actually doing, which kind of worries me, but means I’ll be very surprised on Tuesday when I finally will find out what they’ve been working on!