A trip to Maputo & other things

As I lay on the massage table, having my brows waxed and talking with the esthetician about makeup routines, I couldn’t help but think that this was the happiest I had been in weeks. That’s probably not the most Peace Corps thing to say, but after weeks of incurable diarrhea and the death of my host pai last week, things have definitely been a little off for me recently. Today, spending a couple hours in a spa, (and spending nearly a fifth of my monthly living allowance in the process,) made me happy beyond belief. I couldn’t help but smile to myself on the walk back to the hotel, through the sun soaked streets of Maputo.

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Best 200 mets (about $3) I ever spent

Although we visited the capital city a couple of times during training, after getting used to Nampula City I had forgotten just how developed Maputo is. Since I arrived on Thursday evening, I have been walking around with my jaw literally dropped. They’ve got everything. A “Super Spar” (pictured above) that could give Super Walmart a run for their money. Indian restaurants that deliver. Grapes sold on the street corner. Coconut oil. In just a couple days, I’ve managed to spend way more than the medical per diem that I received on essentials like novelty sunglasses and a wooden carving of a bottle of my favorite brand of beer here in Mozambique.

Although my adventures in Maputo have been great, in all seriousness, the last couple weeks have been kind of rough. I find it much harder to write about serious topics so I haven’t really talked a lot about this kind of stuff. But in reality I *do not* recommend the incurable diarrhea, as I’ve lost 10+ pounds in like two weeks and have been constantly dehydrated and miserable. My host pai’s death was sudden, and I am still processing my feelings. He had been suffering from headaches for a couple months, and had been losing weight, but who thinks that someone as young and strong as he seemed can die from just headaches? I am glad that I went and visited with him three times on the week that he died, and that I was able to stay at site long enough to attend his wake and funeral, but have felt guilty enjoying my time Maputo being away from the rest of the family this week. I can’t help but wonder what is going to happen to my host mãe and sisters, now that my pai, the sole earner in the family, has died. As weird as it is being away from them right now, I can’t even image what it is going to be like when I go back and see my family. Are my little sisters still going to be carefree, playing and laughing all day? Will my mãe still be easy going, running out into the street to laugh at me riding my bike when my sisters alert her that I am coming down the path? I can’t help but feel that somehow everything has changed. My pai was the only one who really spoke Portuguese, and was always the translator between us, so I’m not even sure how I’ll really communicate with my family any more.

Time is
Too Slow for those who Wait,
Too Swift for those who Fear,
Too Long for those who Grieve,
Too Short for those who Rejoice;
But for those who Love,
Time is not.

Hours fly,
Flowers die:
New days,
New ways:
Pass by!
Love stays.

Henry Van Dyke

As our reconnect conference starts on Monday, I’ll be staying down here in the south to join their conference. I’m excited to have the unexpected opportunity to see all my southern friends! I go back to the doctor on Monday and hopefully they’ll clear me to go back home by Tuesday so I can attend PDM with my counterpart Lucia, where we will learn how to design projects and write grants. As nice as the trip has been, I do feel a little guilty about missing two weeks of school, and having to miss everything else like English and Science club. I’m ready to go return to site well rested, refreshed, and a little more beautiful!

Care package observations

  • Twinkly lights instantly upgrade mosquito net vibes from “African necessity” to “princess canopy”
  • I must talk about being dirty/smelly a lot based on the number of soaps, scrubs, lotions, perfumes, powders, and loofas that I received
    • Also my parents each independently sent me tooth paste/tooth brushes/gum/disposable tooth brushes/mouthwash…. Why are they so concerned about my oral health??
  • I will never have to go to the market again #BolachasOnBolachas
  • My dad is either very good at picking out makeup or very good at asking the sales women at Lush and Sephora what products would be best for a makeup/skincare addict living in Africa.
  • Mimi takes granola requests seriously
  • Volunteers LOVE Lush products (seriously if you’re trying to think of care package ideas for the volunteer in your life, I recommend just going into the store buying as much as you can fit into the box)
    • I am particularly hyped about the Tea Tree water, Mr. Sandman powder, and Toothy Tabs which all seem perfectly suited for life in Moz
  • I guess I’ve been complaining about not being prepared for rainy season as I now have three umbrellas and a rain jacket
  • As much as I have been telling myself that life without cold brew is worth living… after having a taste I am not sure if that is completely true
  • Full cabinets = good problems

A sincere thank you to the people of Japan

Notice anything different?? Huh???

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The people of Japan like to remind us who has given us these gifts by including an informational sticker on pre much everything

The people of Japan have given me many gifts. The beautiful house and school I live and work in. The air conditioner in my the office that is the primary reason I talk to my director. The copier machines that are so complicated and confusing (aka w/directions in English) that I am not trusted to use them. Today, the Japanese gave me the best gift of all: a 32″ flatscreen and a subscription to zapTV with over 300 channels!!!

I was woken up from my nap by banging on the roof and the neighbor’s empregado yelling my name. I shamble out of my room and am asked by the zapTV official if he can come in to install my television.

 

I didn’t really know where this TV was coming from but I wasn’t about to question it. I graciously let the men into our house and have them install the TV on my Peace Corps provided trunk, aka the only piece of furniture we had to put it on.

I then got to sit with our director’s empregado for 30 minutes while he showed me the best channels, including MTV India, the Russian news, and 3 separate novella channels.

Although the TV is by no means necessarily, and installing it in our house is arguably not the best use of funds for our school, I’m excited to have movie nights that don’t involve 5 people huddled around one 13″ laptop screen anymore!

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Not all heroes wear capes

Born to be Bad: My first encounter with the “law”

I was biking into town to visit with my host family a bit and to buy some chamusas from our favorite street food vendor when I heard the whisles coming from the shady spot on the side of the road where the police usually set up their traffic control stop. I looked around, and was shocked to realize that I was the only person around and they were defiantly were talking to me. 

I pull over and notice that these are not the police, but two men in semi-official looking traffic vests holding semi-official looking booklets. I greet them with feigned excited politeness, “Bom dia! Como estão senhores?” because I don’t have passport or ID or anything on me and frankly just don’t want to deal. After normal greetings are exchanged, the men ask me if I have a licence. I ask them, “A licence?  I need liscence to ride my bike to the market? No one has ever told me this.” They laugh and inform me that of course, every person with a bike needs to have a licence, and open their book to show me the forms I need to fill out, which are quite obviously forms for motorcycles and not bikes. I point out that it literally says moto at the top of the form they are showing me, and they explain that I am confused since I don’t know how to read Portuguese and that it is actually saying it if for things that are *without* motors (???). We go back and forth for a bit but in the end I realize I am not wining that battle. Instead, I change tactics and just play dumb. 

Putting my (fake) polite smile back on my face, I apologize to the men and tell them I am very confused, I don’t speak Portuguese well, and that I am actually using my coworkers bike, and that I think they have a liscence but I’m not sure. I explain to them that I am going to the market to get food for breakfast because I am hungry, but will be coming back this way to return to my house and can speak with them again then, alhough I fully planned on returning home via the dirt roads through the fields. As I left, the man asked me to bring him some breakfast as well, to which I laughed and replied, “we’ll see,” knowing that asking for a soda or a snack is a common low key way of asking for a bribe. 

When I arrived at my host family’s house, I told this story to my host dad and uncle, who just could not stop laughing when I told them how I got out of it. I was pretty proud of myself for thinking of that excuse so quickly, truth be told. My pai basically said that it was BS, that I should just tell the men I am a volunteer without money, and said he would talk to the head of the village about it for me. Since I had already planned on taking the back roads home, I wasn’t too worried about it until I was leaving my host family’s house and happened to run into the men again in the market. 

I tried to just ignore it when I heard them calling after me, but one guy jogged up and put out his hand in greeting. Still thinking that he was somewhat of an official figure, I politely shook his hand while he asked me again about breakfast. I apologized and said that I am a volunteer, I don’t recieve a salary, and that I can’t buy him breakfast. Undeterred, he asked me about lunch, and I repeated the same answer. He continues to talk, but eventually I cut him off, once again apologizing and explaining that I need to be back to school by 11 to controlar lunch for the students. He more or less accepts this answer, but while still holding my hand, says that he wants to “familiarizar” with me, and makes a motion as if to kiss me on the cheek. 

I don’t really know what familiarziar means but I think I could get the gist. Considering that I’ve passed the actual police checkpoint on the bike at least 10 times and never had them say a word to me about having a licence, I’m really not too concerted, but I might take the back road the next couple times just to avoid these concerned citizens. 

Cooking with Lesh: Curried Mandioca Burgers

Mandioca. Yuca. Cassava. All different names for the same plant that is a staple in the Mozambican diet.  The leaves are used to make a stew called matapa and the roots are eaten dried, fried, and ground into an interesting kind of porridge called caracata that tastes kind of like what I imagine a mixture of sand and rubber cement would taste like.

Based on my previous lack luster experiences with mandioca I never felt all that inclined to do too much cooking with in on my own, until my friend and fellow volunteer Nico came up with the idea of mandioca veggie burgers. Given the prevalence and affordability of mancioca, and the number of times I have eaten beans this week (9), I was excited to try something a little different. I was also excited about this recipe is because it could be made with ingredients I can reliably find at site or in my district capital (~30 minute car ride away,) because I feel like I’ve been relying a lot on ingredients from Nampula City which is close to two hours away.

Ingredients

  • 1 smallish stick of mandioca
  • ½ carrot
  • ½ small onion
  • 1 blub garlic
  • Little bit of flour
  • Bun
  • Cumin, curry powder

How to:

  1. Start by peeling and cutting the mandioca into small cubes, throw it into a boiling pot of water until soft, about 30 minutes or so
  2. Dice the onion, carrot, and garlic into very small pieces, and sauté until lightly browned.
  3. When the mandoica is soft, mash it, and add in the other veggies and spices to taste.
  4. Form into patties, coat in flour (to form better crust) and pan fry.
  5. Toast your bun and add whatever toppings you so desire!

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The final product was a little bit crumbly, but made a delicious sandwich nonetheless. I added a fried egg (yay protein!), some piri piri sauce, and caramelized onions. I think if I were to make it again, I would also add some avocado because the mandioca itself was a little dry.

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.

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*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.

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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.

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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.