School Daze

It’s been a while since I’ve had a blog post, not counting my cooking posts, because for the last month I really haven’t done a whole lot. Despite the complete lack of activity, I feel like this time has not been wasted. I have learned a lot about myself. I learned that hunger is a powerful force, pretty much the only force that was strong enough to make me walk the 30 minutes into the village every couple of days to buy food and spend some time with my host family (I really do love them, they’re just so far). Cleaning has become a legitimate form of entertainment; I learned that all those years as a kid being forced to help scrub down the house during “spring cleaning” would actually come in handy, as I routinely spend close to 15 hours each week scrubbing our white tiles, in a constant battle against the red clay that surrounds our house. Thanks mom. I learned that I actually like cabbage, or at least have gotten to the point where I am so desperate for veggies that finding cabbage in our district capital has been the highlight of more than a few days during these last 10 weeks. I have learned that even after sleeping 10 hours at night, I still have the capacity for a mid-morning AND mid-afternoon nap.

At some point over the last 10 weeks the excitement of getting to site wore off, and the days became long, hot, and boring. Especially when almost all the other volunteers in my group started school a month ago, I was feeling very ready to begin working. Kathryn and I joked that we would even be happy to have pointless school meanings, just to give us something to do. But of course, as it goes, the grass is always greener, or you always want what you can’t have or whatever.

On Thursday, a week after we were told meetings would begin, we finally attended our first school meeting. We woke bright and early, and I excitedly put on a full face of makeup for the first time in months. We made the 2 minute walk from our front door to our school’s front office, and were excited to see all of our colleagues, after having grown accustomed to the silence on campus these last two months. Our meeting began promptly an hour after it was supposed to start. Turns out, the topic of this meeting was what improvements to our school our director and pedagogical director should bring up at some municipal education meeting next week.

henny
*Alleged picture of our PE teacher*

While some teachers had practical requests, the suggestions quickly became slightly unrealistic. Several professors jumped on the idea of selecting a faculty representative who would go to another country and buy a school car. It was suggested that we need trampolines for the gym. Many professors spoke of the need for a faculty lounge with couches and larger TVs so that the professors can rest in between giving lessons. We sat through this meeting for more than two hours, while literally every single professor in attendance had at least one suggestion. Eventually we had a break, while waiting for our director to arrive from Nampula city for the next meeting to start. Once he arrived, we filtered back into the meeting room and had the exact same meeting for another two hours. Kathryn and I were growing increasingly disinterested and hungry. Even though this was more or less expected based on what other volunteers had said about typical meetings in Mozambique, we both left pretty annoyed and frustrated. We were told to come back tomorrow to plan our first week of classes.

All was good and well Friday morning, we planned on attending our short planning meeting, meeting with the Peace Corps safety and security staff who were stopping by our site, and then heading off to Nampula city to meet our friend Eléonore for a few days in the city. It had been a couple of weeks since I had been to Nampula, so I was excited and looking forward to a few days away from site. Due to a complicated series of unfortunate events, these plans were completely shattered. Between an inexplicable SIX HOUR meeting that included the reading of a list of prices of every single IFP in Mozambique, an argument about whether the students should pay for teacher’s phone credit, and no less than four retellings of our director’s trip to Boston, and Peace Corps completely blowing us off, I was forced to postpone my trip into the city until late Saturday afternoon. Luckily I was greeted by Eléonore at the Chinese restaurant in Nampula with a cold beer and a spring roll, and the frustrations of our first three days of work melted away.

avo toast.jpg
Avocado toast with Eleonore at the hostel Sunday morning

I returned to site Sunday afternoon well rested, well fed, with a ton of groceries (it’s avocado season in Mozambique!) and a box of wine, refreshed and ready to start my first day of classes. The science department head is incredibly helpful and supportive, and gave me very detailed lesson plans for the first week. For my first lesson, I just had to give a pre-test and read off the topics we will be covering this semester. Not all that difficult, but I was still a little nervous to get in front of the class and teach in Portuguese for the first time. Regardless of my language skills, my students were very interested in my introduction and listening to me talk a little bit about Peace Corps and America, and sat for the pre-test more or less quietly. When it came time to read the syllabus for them to copy it down, they did request that another student read it out loud rather than me because they were having trouble understanding my Portuguese, which was a little embarrassing but at least they asked politely?

Either way, I survived my first day of classes without any major hiccups, and am really excited to begin teaching, meeting some of the 450 students who have arrived on campus and who will hopefully want to be my friend and help me practice Portuguese. I’m only teaching 3 hours a week for now because the pedagogical director who makes the schedule thinks we need to “learn the ways of Africa” before we take on more classes so I’ve still got a lot of free time, but hopefully I will also soon begin to work on secondary projects like EGRA (Early Grade Reading Assessment) at our local primary school and a science club with the students at my school!

Cooking with Lesh: Feijoada

It seems lately this this is turning into a cooking blog, pretty much because cooking has become the most noteworthy part of my day. We still don’t start school for another 3-4 weeks, and to be honest the novelty of going into town to hang out with the neighbors who only speak Macua (which we don’t) and to hang out with the children has kind of worn off. I still usually make it into town at least every other day, mostly to buy bread, tomatoes, and eggs, which along with onions and dried fish make up the majority of what is available in our market. Although our freezer (which cost us a month and a half worth of pay and was worth every single metical) has helped a lot with food storage and variety, these items still have to be used within a day or so of purchase, which means they have to be purchased every other day. It’s semi-annoying to have to go to the market all the time, but at least it forces me out of the house every now and then.
While making our normal rounds from my host family’s house to the market, we noticed that one of the stands along the way had huge bags of rice, grains, beans, and corn for sale by the kilo. We decided to buy some dried beans to make feijoada, a bean stew dish that is pretty common here. Although our recipe deviated slightly from the typical Mozambican version by being about 50% vegetable, we were very pleased with it and I will definetly be making it again (aka tonight because I don’t know if I’ve ever had a more nutritious meal and I want to keep that going)

Feijoada

  • 1.5 cups dried beans – we chose ~boring brown beans~ because they are then only type sold in our market
  • 1/2 cabbage
  • 1-2 carrots
  • 4-5 medium onions
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 10 small tomatoes
  • 1 200g package of chorizo (optional)
  • Curry powder, salt, pepper to taste
  1. Pick out all the sticks, rocks, and leaves that come in your beans when you buy them from the market
  2. Soak beans overnight to help you digest or to stop you from farting or something idk but do it
  3. After beans have soaked, throw them in a big pot of water to boil for about 1 hour. Add a bay leaf or two if you’re feeling it
  4. Cut up all veggies.  Once the beans are at about the halfway point, sautée all the veggies together until they’ve softened up and browned a bit. If you’re going to use chorizo, you can dice it and cook it at this time as well.
  5. Once the beans are mostly done, drain, reserving about a cup of liquid. Add the veggies and chorizo to the bean pan, mix, and add the reserved water if necessary to give it the right texture.
  6. Add in all spices. We used about a tablespoon of medium curry powder and some piri piri sauce because we like things a lil hot. We also found that you need way more salt than we originally expected.
  7. Let it cook down for a bit until it seems right or until you are too hungry to wait anymore.
Pls ignore the dirty grout – cleaning it is my project for this week. I told you my life is boring!

Usually feijoada is served over rice, but we decided to forgo the extra carbs and it was amazing. I ate the leftovers with a fried egg and an iced coffee slushie the next morning for breakfast and can only say that it was truly a transcendent brunch experience for me here in Moz.

Cooking with Lesh: Mozambican Piri Piri Sauce 

Although restaurants here are consistently running out of basic ingredients (e.g. last month when the restaurant in our district capital that only sells chicken ran out of chicken,) I have never been to a restaurant here that failed to serve their food with a side of piri piri sauce. Each restaurant makes the sauce a little different, but the essential ingredient is piri piri peppers that can be bought in any market. After going through multiple bottles of store bought piri piri sauce in our first month here, I decided it was time to try my hand at making the sauce. I consulted a couple of cooks at resutrants where I like the piri piri sauce and a couple of neighbors, and came out with a pretty delicious sauce.

  • 1 big handful piri piri peppers
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 large onion
  • Juice of 10 large lemons
  • Salt
  • Paprika

In asking people how they make the sauce I basically was just told to chop it all up and throw it in a pot, so thats basically what I did. I chopped the onions and garlic up really smally and sautéd them in a pan with oil first, then threw in the chopped up peppers, lemon juice, salt and paprika, and just left it to simmer for a bit. I then let it cook and used a pilão (pestle and mortar) to grind everything up, although you could just use a blender in America.

Usually when you buy piri piri sauce in the market it is sold in empty alcohol bottles, so I put the final product in an gin bottle for that real Mozambican authenticity!

You gotta fight, for your rite… to be initiated into adult male society

Since we arrived back in Nakhololo, there has been a noticeable lack of 8-12 year old boys around town. More than 50% of Mozambique’s population is under the age of 18, so there is no shortage of kids running around our house all day, but many of the pre-teen boys have been away participating in the process of male initiation rites. Kathryn’s host brother was one of these boys, which means we were lucky enough to be invited to the huge party that takes place at the end of their month preparing.

It was explained to us that these boys spend a month out in the bush without any contact from women. Although we asked pretty much everyone who brought up the subject about what actually goes on during the month these boys spend away from the village, we received nothing but the vaguest of answers. So after a week of asking around, and even after attending the final celebration, we basically still have no clue what they actually have been doing while out in the bush, but we definitely do have a much better idea of what Mozambican parties look like!

When we arrived to the party, we were immediately seated next to a family of women in matching capulanas who informed us they came to this party all the way from Nampula City just for the pork. Although we didn’t say so, we were kinda feeling the same way. Kathryn’s host dad is a butcher, and her mom is a great cook, so we were pretty excited to eat the goat and pork we had seen being prepared the day before.

Shortly after arriving, we were served a goat stew over rice, along with grilled pork and xima. We were pretty satisfied after one serving, even though we probably served ourselves less than ¼ of what everyone else there was eating. The normal Mozambican serving size can only be described as a mountain of rice.

After eating, we were led inside to see Menguito, Kathryn’s host brother, the whole reason for the party. We were supposed to sit and talk with him for a while to entertain him, as he was not allowed outside until the ceremony began. Unfortunately he doesn’t speak a lot of Portuguese, and we don’t speak a whole lot of Makua, so it was a short conversation and we sat in silence inside the sweltering house for what we determined was an appropriate amount of time before heading back outside to the coolness of the shade and breeze.

After everyone had eaten, it was time for the real festivities to begin. All the tables were cleared away to make room for a local dance group to begin singing and dancing.

Although most of the songs were in Makua, we did realize that one song the women were singing in Portuguese included the refrain,

“Life here is hard,
So I cry and eat mandioca.”

Which we thought was kind of funny because the women were singing this song with huge smiles on their faces, although I did agree that I want to cry when I eat mandioca. After a while, the women began to sing a song that generally talked about the generosity of Kathryn’s host pai for feeding everyone. At this point, a huge procession began, with everyone coming up the aisle and giving money to Kathryn’s host parents, Menguito, and a couple other older men who we didn’t know. We had heard that it was customary to bring presents, but we had no clue what was expected, and watched for a while to see what other people were giving. In the end, we gave 100 mets (about $1.50) to Kathryn’s host dad and about 20 mets (about 30 cents) and a container of bubbles to Menguito.

IMG_20161222_124827.jpg

After this process, the women resumed dancing and singing, this time joined by some of the party goers. Kathryn was pulled up to dance with a mãe, and I was lucky enough to share a dance with one of the town drunks! After this experience, and being at the party for around four hours, we decided it was time to head out while the dancers were taking a quick break. As we were leaving, we noticed that many of the mães were beginning to prepare dinner; the dancing and celebration continued late into the night.

The Malema Dilemma 

After having all the Moz 27 volunteers from Nampula at my house for Christmas, I was excited to finally get to do a bit of traveling for myself as my friends Eléonore, Tom and I headed out of Monapo and made our way to Eléonore’s site on the other side of Nampula. She technically lives on the same road as me, the EN8, but is probably my furthest volunteer as she lives literally where the road ends. We headed out from my site early, catching a boleia (free hitch hike ride) to Nampula city in a pickup truck that had an adorable puppy in the back! If we hadn’t had a recent good streak of luck with catching boleias recently, I may have said this is the best boleia  ever.

wp-1482914438295.jpgAfter arriving in Nampula, we had a quick and delicious shawarma lunch before running to Shoprite, the American style grocery store to stock up on food and snacks for the next couple days. We headed out to the chapa stop around noon to make the 5-6 hour trip to Eléonore’s site.

We thought we had good timing because right as we showed up we were hearded onto a nice bus heading straight to Malema. Unfortunately we had to then wait for nearly two hours baking in the sun for the bus to fill up before we could leave, but still were glad to be in a bus rather than the more crowded and more uncomfortable chapa. 

Eventually, the bus filled up, meaning there were five people squished into each row intended for four. We were happy to finally be on our way with a nice breeze blowing though our windows, until about an hour later when we experienced our first of what would be four breakdowns.

Each time the bus would break down, we became more and more concerned that we were not going to be able to make it to Eléonore’s site before dark. We began to try and catch a boleia that may have been able to get us to the next town over where we may have been able to get on a different bus.

This led to multiple arugements with the bus driver, as he thought we were trying to jump ship without paying. Luckily for him, there was basically no traffic and we weren’t able to catch a ride. After more than 7 hours, we finally were seeing the end in site, and just had to cross the train tracks to enter her district, but in continuation with the luck we had been having this entire journey, we got stuck behind the train stopped in the station for more than 30 minutes. All we could do was laugh as even the Mozambicans on the bus were complaining about how ridiculous this trip was.
Eventually we succeeded in passing the train tracks and arrived in the district of Malema, aka Terra da Cebola, aka Land of the Onion, where we were assaulted by tons of kids offering 25 liter buckets full of onions for 100 mets ($1.50) through the windows of the bus, which we firmly but politely declined. When we finally got to the chapa stop, we surprisingly made it to Eléonore’s compound without incident, washed off the dirt and sweat from traveling, and settled down to eat some grilled cheese sandwiches before heading off to bed. We are spending a couple days resting in Malema before we spend another day or two travelling to meet some other volunteers at a resort for the New Year, hopefully this trip will go a little smoother, but knowing Moz my expectations are low!

Christmas in Mozambique 

Having never spent Christmas away from my friends and family, I expected my first Christmas in Mozambique to be at least a little lackluster. I think partially due to the fact that it is 100 degrees everyday its been kind of hard to get into the Christmas spirit, although a Christmas care package filled with Christmas decorations  from my mom and grandma did help. It also helped that seven other volunteers in Nampula came to our house for a Christmas celebration. Keeping busy with preparing the house and creating a menu for nine people for five days without a refrigerator also helped me stay busy and avoid feeling sad that I wasn’t home.

There’s really not a whole lot to do in our decisively rural town, so our days were passed by playing a lot of card games, going to our district capital of Monapo, hanging out with our host families, and even visiting the one local bar that is owned by a woman and not overrun with town drunks that Kathryn and I have been waiting to try since we met the dona last week. Food preparation also took up a lot of our time, and having a packed kitchen with everyone helping to cook made it feel just like the holiday season at home. 

By far my favorite part of having everyone over for Christmas was the excuse to splurge and buy meat and cook big dinners that Kathryn and I usually wouldn’t cook for just the two of us. We had chicken and dumplings, lentil burgers, grilled pork, mac n cheese, pancakes, fruit salad, fried bananas. I almost felt sick after Christmas dinner from all the amazing food, I don’t think my body is used to getting so much nutrition.

So like, what do you do all day?

Kathryn and I have been at our site for he week, and have already fallen into a pretty regular daily routine here. The pace of our lives has changed considerably from what it was in Namaacha, where Peace Corps had almost evey waking minute scheduled for us. For now, I’m loving the lazy, relaxed days with nothing specific to do.

6:00am – Wake up super early for no reason. Oftentimes due to giggling kids in our back yard collecting all the huge flying termites that collect in our veranda during the night. Lay in bed and check all social media until I have the willpower to get up.

7:30am – Start sweping the floors. Every night, tons of bugs get into our house under the doors. Luckily they’re usually dead by the time we wake up, so we can just sweep them out and it’s not too bad.

8:00am – Breakfast, usually PB&J sandwich. I also usually like to watch an hour episode of Shameless while I eat.

9:30am – Start getting ready to leave the house. Its a bit of a process because we have to lock like 10 different locks and apply a lot of sunscreen.

10:0am – Leave house and attempt to get somewhere. This means either walking the 30-40 minutes to the market (depending on how many times we have to stop and talk to people) or attempting to catch a ride off the EN8 in front of our school if we are going to our district capital or anywhere else.

12:00 – Return from morning outing. Sit in front of fan for 10-20 min in attempt to de-sweat before cooking and eating lunch. Maybe take a nap or watch another episode of Shameless.

2:00pm – Prepare for afternoon outing. Re-apply sunscreen and re-lock all the locks. Walk the 30 or so minutes to our friends’ or host families’ houses.

3:00pm – Cuteness therapy. This is what I call hanging out with my host family because my host sisters (and their new pet baby ducks!!!!) are soooo cute and always make me smile. Yesterday one of the ducks pooped on my and I wasn’t even mad.

5:00pm – Return from afternoon outing and attempt to complete our p90x workout video of the day. Emphasis on attempt.

6:30pm – Shower in our amazing hot water, high water pressure, gift from the gods shower. It really is so good that I could cry every time.

7:30pm – Cook dinner. Kathryn and I have been having some great dinners recently, including lentil stew, a potato and chorizo scramble dish, and even fried plantains!!

8:00pm – Take malaria prophylaxis. My alarm to remind me to take it always seems to go off right when I am sitting down to eat dinner.

9:00pm – Get in bed and try to watch as many episodes of Shameless as possible before passing out from exhaustion… usually one episode.

Sometimes I skip the morning outing to do laundry, or the afternoon to clean the house and continue unpacking and setting up my room which is still a work in progress. I’m sure that soon enough I’ll grow bored of the little I have to do every day, but for now, binging on Shameless, going to the market, and planning our Christmas festivities, is enough to keep me going most days!

100 days in Mozambique 

As of yesterday, I have officially been in Mozambique for 100 days! I thought about celebrating with a party similarto the 100th day of school parties you used to have in kindergarten, where kids would dress up like they’re 100 years old, make necklaces with 100 pieces of macaroni, eat 100 pieces of candy, whatever. Instead, I settled for killing 100 giant bugs that got into my house, spending 100 minutes washing laundry, and eating about 100 slices of fried plantain. All in all, not too shabby of a celebration. 

Lost Around Mozambique

After a long day of swearing in, celebrating, and then saying goodbye to many of the friends I made during training, we were up bright and early on Thursday to catch our 7:30 flight. I was excited, and a little bit nervous, to finally get to my home for the next two years. After waiting in line, and being cut more than a couple of times, we made it to the check in desk only to be informed that our flight had been over booked and we did not make the cut because a commandante had showed up last minute and taken our spot on the plane.  As we were informed by the Peace Corps travel specialist, this is more common than you’d think, and is the exact reason you really need to get to the airport early in Moz.We, along with a cute Portuguese family and about 10 Chinese businessmen, were rescheduled for the 5pm flight to Nampula. 

When we received the news, we couldn’t do anything but laugh because it seemed this would be our first experience with LAM that lived up to the nickname many volunteers have for the Mozambican airline, Lost Around Mozambique. In light of this experience, I would like to dedicate this blog post to some of the things that kept me laughing throughout this experience with LAM:

  • The irresistible LAMwitch – every time you fly with LAM, regardless of time of day or duration of the flight, you receive a complimentary meal, which more often than not includes a juice box, a muffin, and a cheese and polony (worse version of bologna) sandwich. While not the best thing I’ve eaten, I guess I appreciate the gesture of offering a cold fake meat sandwich?
  • Inefficiency for the sake of seeming more legit – When we finally got on a flight that afternoon, I was surprised to see that after checking in we had to get on a bus, because as far as I could see, the only plane we could’ve been getting on was about 100 feet away and easily walkable. I assumed this bus was taking us to a different plane, far and out of sight, but was thrilled to realize that we were legitimately taking a ~15 second bus ride to the plane rather than just walking. But at least the bus was air conditioned!
  • Baggage claim – my enjoyment of this may be amplified by the exhausted delusion I have felt by the time I have arrived every time I’ve flown with LAM. Regardless, the baggage claim situation at Mozambican airports has quickly become my favorite part of traveling. There are a number of factors that make this event so special, the first and most important being the types of luggage you see on a flight in Mozambique. People will use anything from coolers, to cardboard boxes, to egg cartons as luggage, all wrapped at the plastic wrap station of the airport. The unusual sizes and shapes of the luggage, combined with the luggage chute and belt makes for some of the best entertainment I have found in Mozambique. Oftentimes, pieces of luggage with get stuck, causing a huge road block until a piece big and heavy enough comes along to break it up, often resulting in several pieces of luggage falling off the belt. People will then wait until the entire plane has unloaded waiting for their luggage, only to realize that it fell of the belt as one of these road blocks 10 minutes ago.

All in all, my first “bad” experience with LAM in the end wasn’t all that bad. I got to spend an extra day in Maputo eating pizza and burritos and drinking coffee milkshakes with some of my best friends in Nampula, and we even got an extra day of per diem to stay the night in the hostel in Nampula City!

PST Prom

 

On our final Friday of training, we were able to have a very special last party together, Peace Core Training Prom. Everyone was dressed up in their fanciest outfits – colorful capulana clothing or used dresses rented at Shoprite, the large outdoor market that is held twice a week in Namaacha. I was able to rent my dress for only $2, a whole lot cheaper than either of the prom dresses I wore to prom in high school! We ate a ton of fried snacks, probably drank a little too much beer, and danced the night away until our 9pm curfew. Suffice it to say, PST prom was the perfect way to celebrate reaching the end of training. It was great to have one crazy night before we all become actual volunteers with responsibilities and stuff on Wednesday.