I am in my bed on Sunday the 4th of September at 7:45 pm in a small town near Swaziland as I write this post. I note this because it just took me more than 10 minutes to figure out what time zone I am in to set my laptop to the appropriate time and date, as it is the first time I have opened my laptop since being in Mozambique. I have excused myself to the comfort of my little concrete house (comprised of a bedroom and living area) after forcing down another carb heavy dinner courtesy of my mãe (host mom). The food that I have had here is excellent, but what it is doing to my digestive tract is not. There’s really just no dignified way to explain to your mãe at the dinner table that you can’t eat a lot because you’re seriously backed up. I have quickly learned that even though I am eating probably double what I would eat for any meal at home, my mãe is convinced that I hate all the food because I have never accepted second portions, and have passed on every snack she offers. Eu gusto (I like) and tudo bem (everything’s good) are probably the most used phrases in my Portuguese vocabulary, but unfortunately this does not go far when you are trying to force down a pound of rice at each meal.
Don’t get me wrong, the food has really been very good. I have enjoyed grilled whole chicken, an omelet-like egg dish, a papaya picked right off the tree, and my favorite so far – soup with chicken’s feet. My mãe is doing such a good job at feeding me that I haven’t had the chance to feel hungry while here once! I am kind of happy that starting tomorrow I begin full day lessons 6 days a week and will be having lunch away from home, and will be able to control my own portions for at least one meal a day.
My mãe is 66 years old, more of an avó (grandmother) who lives with her 8 year old granddaughter, Betie (not sure how it’s spelled, but I think it’s short for Elizabeth). She is assisted in daily tasks by a neighbor named Fatima, who is married with a young daughter and has been taking me around the town a bit. These three Mozambicans have been extremely patient with me these last few days. Due to my extremely basic Portuguese they sometimes treat me like a 3 year old, but at least that makes them easy to impress! Mãe didn’t seem believe me when I said I know how to cook, and was subsequently highly impressed with my potato peeling skills, so at least I’m not a complete failure.
After the excitement of staging in Philly, the novelty of my first trans-continental flight, and then arrival at the beautiful hotel in Maputo with my fellow volunteers, these last few days have left me feeling a little anxious and down. It quickly became clear that my Portuguese needs some serious work, and having to work so hard all day to understand and to be understood has left me exhausted. Although my first night with my host family left me feeling pretty stressed, I finally opened the package my mom had given me right before I left – a journal filled with notes and pictures from friends and family. Although the gift left me crying so hard I couldn’t read more than the first note from my mom, I went to sleep last night hugging Sharkie tight and feeling mostly okay.
I woke up really early this morning to do a bit of Portuguese self study, and then spent much of the morning cooking, cleaning, taking my first bucket bath and learning from my mãe and Betie. Betie gave me a small tour of the barrio and we visited Fatima’s house, then had a restful afternoon before my Peace Corps language evaluation. Although I’m sure I scored pretty low, the language teachers were very excited to talk about my minor in architecture, which is probably not as impressive as it sounded to them. Meeting up again with my other volunteers for the first time since arriving at our home stays lifted a huge weight off my shoulders that I almost didn’t know was there. Hearing the laughs and English conversation was music to my ears as we approached the PC Office, and listening to everyone else’s stories about their first day left me feeling refreshed as I headed back for dinner with the family.
“Estamos Juntos,” a Mozambican phrase meaning “we are together,” was mentioned to us several times over the course of staging. Although I knew I would find friendships and create special bonds with those in my cohort, I already feel #blessed to be here with such an awesome group. Although we spent only two hours together this afternoon, hearing one volunteer’s horrifying story of realizing that her bath bucket was also being used to mop poop up off the floor, frantically recording notes on a quick Portuguese lesson from another volunteer and chugging multiple bottles of cold water that I knew wasn’t going to give me dysentery from the PC office allowed me to come back to my family and force down the spaghetti while miming the difference between diarrhea and constipation with a smile on my face.
Although I still do not have phone or internet access quite yet, there was talk today that tomorrow we may be able to go and at least buy a small text and internet package tomorrow after training, so I wanted to get this down while it was still fresh. I’m excited about my first and much needed language lesson tomorrow, as well as getting my water filter so that I can begin preparing my own water to have a least some piece of mind on that front! Thank you all for reading; I hope you know that I miss you all so much that it hurts to think about it!