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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
1 smallish stick of mandioca
½ small onion
1 blub garlic
Little bit of flour
Cumin, curry powder
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
Dice the onion, carrot, and garlic into very small pieces, and sauté until lightly browned.
When the mandoica is soft, mash it, and add in the other veggies and spices to taste.
Form into patties, coat in flour (to form better crust) and pan fry.
Toast your bun and add whatever toppings you so desire!
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.
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)
1.5 cups dried beans – we chose ~boring brown beans~ because they are then only type sold in our market
4-5 medium onions
3-4 cloves garlic
10 small tomatoes
1 200g package of chorizo (optional)
Curry powder, salt, pepper to taste
Pick out all the sticks, rocks, and leaves that come in your beans when you buy them from the market
Soak beans overnight to help you digest or to stop you from farting or something idk but do it
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
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.
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.
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.
Let it cook down for a bit until it seems right or until you are too hungry to wait anymore.
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.
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.
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.
After trying to convince my mãe to let me cook the family dinner for weeks, tonight I was finally allowed to take control of the kitchen. I decided to start with something simple, and decided to make spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce. I went to the market this weekend and purchased all the necessary ingredients for just over 100 mets, about $1.30.
To say my mãe was skeptical of my cooking skills would be an understatement. All day she kept asking me, “Do you need chicken? Are you sure? Do you need peppers? Are you sure? Do you need Fatima (our maid) to stay late to help you? Are you sure?” Despite her lack of faith, I was excited to get to cook and show her that I’m not completely useless.
The cooking itself was pretty uneventful. My sister helped me a bit, but since its such an easy dish it only took me about 30 minutes in total. When I was done, my mãe still seemed pretty skeptical,and allowed my sister and I to serve ourselves first. She tried a tiny teaspoon, and declared it bom (good). For a minute, I thought she wasn’t going to eat any more, but was really happy when she came out of the kitchen with a huge bowl of my spaghetti for herself. She did tell me that she thought it was going to be horrible and that she had actually made dinner before I got home just in case we needed a backup. She also told me that she thought it needed more salt and oil (not a huge surprise considering how oily and salty most of the food here is) and that she thinks it would be better with meat. I guess next time I’ll have to stop at the butcher and pick up some sausage to add to the sauce.
I was so happy to be back in the kitchen this afternoon; cooking is something that makes me feel like me. At the same time, as I took the first bite of my spaghetti, I felt more homesick than I have since my first week here. It made me think of cooking eggplant parmesan for my mom when I was home this summer, with fresh tomatoes from our garden. I felt the same way when I cooked banana bread a couple weeks ago. Somehow, even though I have used Mimi’s banana bread recipe enough times to have it all but memorized, I thought it would be different somehow here. When I took that first bite of bread still warm from the oven, I was both so comforted to be eating something so familiar, and so sad to be away from those who I normally share it with. I will also add that it felt awesome to be the one serving the food and dictating serving sizes for once. My family are serious members of the clean plate cub, and I am basically forced to finish every bit of wjst is put on my plate each night. I may have been a little vengeful by giving my sister a HUGE serving like she always does to me.