Saturday, March 5, 2011

Laurindo's Lot

Yesterday, I was walking along the main road thinking I was heading towards the agrarian school when a young man greeted me and asked me in the local language, “Munroavai?” Where are you going?
When I said that I wanted to visit the agrarian school, he told me I was heading in the wrong direction and had me follow him, first to his home, then to the school. For the next two hours I learned more about what it means to be poor from this young man than I have learned from any lecture or book about poverty.

His name is Laurindo Francisco da Silva Caixao. He is 22 years old. In Portuguese, his last name “caixao” means coffin. That's where both his parents have been since 2004. Buried two meters apart from each other. His father in a wooden coffin, paid for by the catholic priests who he had been working for when he became sick. His mother in a bamboo coffin, put together by members of the community and wrapped in a very nice cloth. When he talked about it, Laurindo seemed proud of his mother's coffin. She passed away a few months after her husband. Cholera killed them both. One year later, Laurindo wound up in the hospital with cholera. “But the nurses saved me,” he says. They gave him plenty of bottled water to replenish his system. 
Because he is an orphan of both parents, he was given a poverty certificate from the government entitling him to a free education. But he can only attend school at night because during the daytime, students have to wear uniforms and shoes and Laurindo has neither because he doesn't have money. He lives on virtually nothing. Probably a lot closer to zero dollars a day than a dollar a day.

He eats xima everyday. The corn and cassava that he grinds up to make the white mush comes from his home in Iapala, 30km away, where his four younger sisters live. He brings it over by bike every so often. He's had this bike since 2006. Five years. And he got it used. But he didn't buy it. He worked on a man's farm for a few days and the man gave him a bike for his labor. This is probably his most valuable possession and yet he didn't pay a penny for it.

Laurindo lives in a tiny mud hut in the neighborhood of Saua Saua, over an hour walk into the villa of Ribaue where he goes every night to attend his 11th grade class. He built his hut without spending anything. The land was free, he simply had to ask permission from the secretary of the neighborhood, the mud bricks he made himself, and then he hired a mason to build the house. He repaid the mason by bringing him wood from the nearby mountain for some of the mason's other work projects.

He gets water from the pump at the nearby primary school using two five liter gasoline containers that were given to him by someone at the market. Since he lives alone and uses the river to bathe and wash his clothes, he only needs 10 liters every other day, so the school lets him take water without having to pay the monthly  fee of 10 mt (30 cent).

I asked him when was the last time he spent money on something. After thinking for a few seconds he told me that he had bought his notebooks (every Mozambican student must have a notebook for each one of their classes) and pens. He had gotten this money, which should have been just over a dollar, from the nuns in Iapala after working on one of their fields for a day.

He wants to start saving up to buy a pair of shoes since all he had is the pair of sandals he was wearing. That's a 250 mt purchase. I asked him where he would get that money from. His sisters, he told me. They're going to start selling their excess corn and they'll give him one mt every now and then, and he'll save that up until he could get his pair of shoes. I offered to hire him for a day or two to help me and Charlie get our little machamba going, and then I would give him the money for the shoes. He liked this idea. Now I just need to make sure I follow up with it.

On our walk, I bought some roadside guavas. It's guava season right now, so they're dirt cheap. Three for one mt. That's about 3 cents. So I bought two mts worth and offered half the guavas to Laurindo, but he didn't want them. He didn't like them. I found this surprising at first, but then he told me that he had three large guave trees in his house in Iapala, so he had grown tired of eating guavas all his life. But noticing how much I liked them, he said he would bring me a bunch from his tree next time he makes the 30km bike trip to his home. I begged him not to do this, since there are so many available here. But just the fact that he offered to do was very humbling. At no point during our conversation did he ask for anything or even express a need for anything that I could potentially fulfill. Instead, he offered to bring me guavas from his tree 30km away.
We talked a bit more about cholera. I wanted to know what he knew about it, about the way it spreads and the way people get it, and he definitely knew his stuff. Lack of hygiene. Defecating in places other than the latrine, especially places close to water. Then I asked him if he had any experiences with malaria. He did. Last year. Spent a week in the hospital recovering. Then I asked about HIV/AIDS. Did he know of anyone, living or dead, who had the virus? No, he didn't. But he did know plenty about how to not get AIDS. “Have only one partner and use condoms.” I asked him if he used a condom when having sex. He does. He gets the free ones they have at the hospital. And he only has one partner. She's a 12th grade student who lives with her parents in the villa. They get together about once a month at her house and have sex. He spoke of it as a “necessity.” Something that needed to be done. Her parents, who both have jobs (this is very rare), both seem to like him so he's planning to stick around with this girl.

I'm still trying to understand how Mozambicans view sex. In the US, I would never ask a random person, or even a friend, if we're just on a casual stroll, about their sex life. But considering how often people here have inquired about my sex life (they don't believe me when I tell them I'm a virgin), I felt completely comfortable bringing it up with Laurindo.

Continuing the conversation about HIV, he mentioned that it's also possible to get it from the blades used by curandeiros -traditional healers – since they use them on many people and don't wash them. Most evangelicals I've asked have told me that they do not go to curandeiros when they are sick because it's proibido -prohibited. But Catholics are a bit more lenient on this and Laurindo is Catholic, so I asked him if he ever goes to the curandeiro when he is sick. He told me that his mother used to take him when he was a child, but when he began to “ver como sao as coisas” (see how things are) he stopped going. Not because it was wrong, but because of the risk involved.

When we parted ways, he asked me how I would be getting in touch with him to let him know about working on our machamba. I told him I'll find him at his house. He thanked me, we said goodbye and as I started walking home, my mind imploded with thoughts about Laurindo's lot in life. How different it is from mine, from anyone I grew up with in America. When people talk about “the poorest of the poor”, I think they're talking about Laurindo. I hope to come across more Laurindos during these next two years, not simply so I can continue to share their stories with friends back home, but mainly so that their stories can begin transform my own; that their experience can shape the way I see my role in the world.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Let the teaching begin...

Caros Amigos (this means “dear friends” in Portuguese - “caro” is short for “querido”- not to be mistaken for “Amigos Caros” which would mean “expensive friends”) and random readers of this blog,
      I'm having a wonderful time here in Northern Mozambique thus far. The house I'm living in is ridiculously nice even by American standards, especially for someone fresh out of college. It's a 2-bedroom suite with tile floors, hot shower, brand-new gas stove, full-sized fridge, dinner table with six chairs (and a Nelson Mandela tablecloth which I bought), 3 comfy couches, running water (very few of my PC colleagues have running water) and -this is the part that would make any American love this place -the location is amazing. We are nearly at the foot of a majestic mountain that to me looks like the hand or foot of God (you'll see pictures and you might agree) and from our porch, I can watch beautiful sunsets everyday.
      Charlie, my awesome housemate, and I are teachers at Ribaue Secondary School, a school that holds an important place in Mozambican history. It was one of the first schools opened by FRELIMO, the revolutionary front  that led the fight for Mozambique's independence  and that still holds a virtual monopoly on Mozambican politics.  It's purpose was to educate the Mozambican people during a time when access to education was limited to the Portuguese and Assimilados (the black elite who probably talked and acted more like white Europeans than their fellow Mozambicans).  Considering the historical import of this place, it's interesting to see how bad it looks 30 years after its glory days. Windowless, wall-less, desk-less, and door-less classrooms (most of the walls are still intact, but they are falling apart). The past couple of Saturdays, I've had to use these classrooms for my English Choir (I've had over 20 kids each week chanting “We Are Mozambicans, Mighty Mozambicans”-adapted from “we are the titans”-and last week they were singing “I like to move it, move it”-from Madagascar- except I had them replace “move it” with other action verbs and I had them make sure they noticed the difference between “I like” and “He/She likes”. It was awesome.) So since these classes don't have doors, I've been able to use them on Saturdays, since I don't need a key to get in. But during the week, I have the good fortune of teaching in our brand-spankin'-new school building, built adjacent to the old school with the help of Chinese tax dollars and Chinese construction workers, where every one of my 200 students (I teach four 11th grade classes of 50 students each) has their own desk, and where I have a huge green blackboard (I'm supposed to be teaching them British English. So I write on the blackboard and erase the chalk with a duster).
      It's kind of funny how the school calender works here. Classes were supposed to officially start on January 17th, but that entire first week was spent creating the schedules for the teachers and students (this varies entirely by school. Some of my PC colleagues started teaching on that day). The following week, classes kind of started, or at least, I started teaching, but by the end of the week, only about half of my students had shown up. So I just did a bunch of get-to-know-you activities in English, taught them a few songs, and played some games. It was fun. The following week I finally had full classrooms and I started teaching testable material. But it was interesting to note that while all the students had arrived, only about half the teachers were teaching during the first two weeks of actual teaching (which were the 3rd and 4th week on the official calender). Teacher absence seems to be a huge issue here. I'm not sure if my students have ever had a day when all their teachers showed up. I think a big part of the problem has to do with the lack of accountability. It wasn't until the 4th Saturday on the official calender that we had our first teacher's meeting (and we probably won't have another 'til the next trimester) and one of the four main points on the agenda was “Profesores, o ano ja arancou entao vamos dar aulas” (Teachers, the year has begun so let's start teaching). I haven't had one  person look over my lesson plans (of course, they are in English, so only the other English teachers would understand them). But I could really be doing whatever  I wanted to  and nobody would know.
      I gave my first test last week and because of the variation of scores, I think it served as a good assessment to see where my students are at. About 1/3 of of my students failed miserably and I don't see things getting better for them over the course of the year. It's sad to say, but a lot of these kids have a very difficult time reading, so you could imagine how hard it must be for them to learn English, especially when their schedule has them taking French and Portuguese everyday. That's just too many languages. About 1/5 of my students seem to have some sort of idea about what I'm talking about, and the rest are in the middle. Scraping by, not fully understanding what's going on, but I'm hoping that they'll be motivated enough, and that I'll be a good enough teacher, that they'll learn a thing or two. Last week I started using a fourth-grade textbook from South Africa. Our dinky school library had over 100 copies of this book, so I took 50. During class, each of my students is able to have a text book in hand (they have to return it at the end of class). Most of these kids have never had a text book for any of their classes, so this is a huge deal. I've never been so excited about a textbook in my life. So for the past two weeks, my students have been reading about Sabelo (the main character in this text) and his friends Thando, Nkululeko, and a bunch of other characters with complicated African names. My first two weeks were a bit up and down, since I sometimes was not sufficiently prepared, or would run out of material. But this text is helping a lot and I now feel that these kids might actually learn something.
      One of the big issues with education here is the lack of books, or just the lack of reading material in general. The only place to get a newspaper is Nampula, the provincial capital 4-7 hours away from here (the variation in travel time is due to messed up roads, unreliable transportation, wait times, etc.) and that's also the only place someone can buy any book. But the only books that are accessible to the public are the old boring textbooks being sold by street vendors. Any decent reading material is far too expensive for even someone like myself to want to buy. I'm hoping that once our new school library is open, I'll be able to help make it a space where students could go to to just sit down and read a book during those periods when their teachers don't show up for class. I believe that if these students had a chance to read more, it might help them think a bit more critically, and in a country where all learning is based solely on what the teacher says, and not on what other sources say, or what your peers might think, there is definitely a dearth of critical thinking. Observing this here has made me really value the importance that is placed on critical thinking in American education.
      Alright. I think I may have bored you all enough with all this education-speak. In a jiffy, I'll just list some of the other highlights of my time here in my new home thus far:
·        eating cornbread, chocolate cake, mashed potatoes, breaded and fried okra, goat, and salad this past weekend when we had a few other PC volunteers visiting us.
·        Making pumpkin soup and cooking other delicious meals (I've virtually been a vegetarian since getting to my site, except for that goat and one other time when we killed a chicken for a special occasion)
·        visiting a different church every Sunday that I've been in town. I'm fascinated by religion in Africa. While it resembles the same general form as most churches in the US -people in the crowd, minister(s) up front addressing the people, people giving money, singing songs, dressing nice -the way this all looks, in a Mozambican context is soooooo different, and what religion means to people here is something I'm trying to figure out.
·        Meeting a few awesome missionaries when visiting other towns. I met a black Brazilian woman who is serving as a nurse for a Catholic order, a Costa Rican priest who just arrived a couple of months ago and who will be presiding over a catholic church deep in the bush, and a white American evangelical missionary who has been serving in Africa for 25 years and who made us pinneaple cake in her home.
·        Watching movies on the health volunteers projector with my bumpin', usb-powered HP speakers.
·        Listening to This American Life on my long journeys away from here.
·        Admiring the tons of Obama gear (shirts, belts, pants, bags, wallets, keychains, pens and even underwear) in every market I go to.

2343 words. I think that's all I got for now. Hopefully, if the internet is kind to me, I'll also be uploading a bunch of photos on fb this weekend (I took individual portraits of all my students. It was probably one of the quickest and best photo things I've ever done).

Goodbye for now.

p.s. I also have a girlfriend for the first time in my life and I like her a lot. Her name is Patricia Orozco aka Patti and she is wonderful. She is not Mexican, as her name might suggest, but Filipina (when I told my mom this, her response was, “Oh, so she's Asian”). We spent a lot of time together during training taking long village walks, visiting churches, and talking, a lot. But now she is serving as a health volunteer in Central Mozambique which is pretty far from me. While the distance between us kind of sucks, we've been having some great phone conversations and I'm looking forward to spending every break from school with her. Also, her Peace Corps service is part of her master's degree program from the Uni of Washington, which means that she is almost done with her master's degree, which means that she's way more legit than me, and she went to Columbia, which is also pretty legit.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Images of a Communist Past

A cross street in Maputo, the capital city. A few other notable figures that have streets named after them: Karl Marx, Freidrich Engels, Salvador Allende, and Mao Ze Dong.

This is the secondary school in Namaacha where the education volunteer training sessions were held and where we conducted a two-week long Model School with students from the community.
The government that took over after the Portuguese were driven out in 1975 was very socialist.
Here are a couple of images that capture this history.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ribaue, Nampula. Lar Doce Lar (Home Sweet Home)

             Me and my roommate Charlie upon arriving at our site. Our second week here, we climbed the peak on the right

The house we're staying at until our new place is ready in mid Jan. The uke and the middle guitar are mine.
Nearly two weeks ago, I arrived in the city that I will be calling home for the next two years. I had no idea what to expect coming here. I was told it was a bit “la” (far away),  being that it takes 3-12 hours to get here from the provincial capital by dirt road (12 hours is a worst case scenario involving a lot of rain, mud, and car issues, which did indeed happen to the volunteer that was here before us).  But I did hear something about mountains, and boy, oh boy, do we have mountains.

Last time I was in Mozambique, I went into Nampula province to camp out for a week. I had no idea where we were, but all I remember is seeing the most incredible mountain-like rock formations ever. Well, low and behold, as we hit the road from the provincial capital to Ribaue the first amazing rock formations we saw were the ones I had seen (and climbed) last time I was here. I took this as somewhat of a sign from above that I was heading to the right place.  A few hours later, we were there, or here (since it is from here, from my new home, that I write to you). And I feel that it's not premature to say that I think I'm really going to like this place.

To begin with, I am living with a super duper awesome guy. His name is Charles Wood, but here in town he introduces himself as Carlos Madeira, and on my phone I have him listed as Charlie Brown (since most people call him Charlie and he went to school at Brown).Let me tell you a bit about this  kid. First, he's pretty darn smart (he scored Advanced High on our language proficiency test, which is what I scored, and he had never spoken a word of Portuguese before coming here; and he majored in Physics, which is what he'll be teaching here; and he reads science blogs; and he's fluent in Spanish and German; and I could probably go on, but he might read this, so I should stop), he's also tall (6'3”), he rock climbs and hikes (we climbed to the top of Mt. M'Paluwe, which has a 5,800 ft peak, this past weekend), and -brace yourself 'cus here comes the best part -he know how to juggle, breathe fire AND ride a unicycle. How many people do you know who could do all those things? I only know one, and his name, as listed on my phone, is Charlie Brown. I'm sure I'll have more to write about him as time goes on, but for now, I'll just say that I'm stoked to be living with him for the next two years.

Also, speaking of housemates, since our brand-spankin'-new apartment won't be inaugurated until mid-January, we've been living with a health volunteer for the time being. Greg Franklin is his name and he's also pretty cool, although I don't think he knows how to ride a unicycle. But it's okay. He has other redeeming qualities to make up for it. First and foremost, he has a sweet tree tattooed onto his chest, and since I have a thing for people with tree tattoos, I figured he can't be that bad. Greg hales from good ol' Oklahoma and comes from a family of Bounty Hunters. No joke. A few nights ago, he was showing us videos of his mom tazing some lady. He also has some footage of himself being tazed and tazing others, since he too was a Bounty Hunter for a minute(I know that I'm not supposed to capitalize Bounty Hunter, but it's such a bad-a$$ job that I feel that it deserves it). Oh! And he was a college football player and he nearly made the cut to be on Survivor. When that didn't work out, he decided that Peace Corps would be the next best thing. So even though Charlie can unicycle and I could play a few instruments, Greg could probably singlehandedly crush us both at the same time, leaving us incapable of showing off our talents to the world. Thankfully, however, he's a very kind person, and would never do such a thing to us. But he would do such a thing to anyone who threatens him or his girlfriend (he always walks around with a knife, and in college, he always carried a gun.) Greg also just got a video projector, so we've been projecting movies onto a white sheet in our little African adobe house, making for a pretty sweet home theater experience. His girlfriend has also been here for the past week, which has been lovely, since she's a cool person AND and amazing cook. I haven't had an unsatisfying meal yet, and that's saying a lot since the only fresh ingredients in the market seem to be tiny tomatoes, green peppers, and onions. One night, she, her name is Megan, and Greg made chicken burritos with homemade tortillas. It was definitely the best meal I had had in a minute (in Miami, “a minute” means “a very long time”).

Enough about my living experience. Well maybe I should mention that I've been sleeping in the living room, depriving me of any personal space. But I think I actually prefer it that way.  And our electricity goes out almost everyday for a little bit of time.
There's a lot more to say, but I guess I could save it for a future post since this one is getting pretty long.

Speech for Swear-in Ceremony in English and Portuguese

I was given the honor of giving a speech at our swearing in ceremony on behalf of all the education peace corps volunteers. Below is the speech in the Portuguese version that I presented, and if you scroll way down, I've translated the speech into English for your reading pleasure.
Discurso de Daniel Carvalho,  voluntario de educação do                                
Corpo da Paz em Moçambique.  3 de Dezembro de 2010.
Excellentisima vice ministra da educação, Excellentisima representante do CNCS, Excellentisima Embaixadora dos Estados Unidos em Moçambique, Caros funcionarios do Corpo da Paz, Caros colegas Mocambicanos nas areas de educao e saude, Caros amigos e voluntarios do Corpos da Paz, Minhas senhoras e meus senhores:
“Eu nunca poderia pensar em educação sem amor. É por isso que eu me considero um educador: acima de tudo porque eu sinto amor.”
Essas sao as palavras de Paulo Freire, um pedagogo  que cria que a educação era uma força para o povo, um meio pelo qual um povo oprimido poderiam ser fortalecidos. E hoje, neste dia em que nosso grupo de 70 americanos  estamonos comprometendo a dedicar os proximos dois anos das nossas vida para servir este pais na educação e saude, essas sao as palavras que soam no meu coracao.
Enquanto eu pensava nas razoes pelas quais alguem possa ser tao louco, tao doido de deixar absolutamente tudo -familia, amigos, queijo, comida mexicana, casa, carros, e muitos outros convenientes– e vir a um lugar onde nada disso será garantido, conclui que, acima de tudo, o que nos tem motivado a fazer este compromisso é o amor. Um amor por ajudar ao nosso próximo e a nossa comunidade. É esse amor que nos tem chamado para saír do nosso ambiente de conforto, das nossas fronteiras naturais.
E hoje, nós nos encontramos aqui em Moçambique onde nos ultimos dois meses o nosso amor por este pais e pelo seu povo tem estado a crescer.  Para alguns de nós, este amor foi gerado no momento que saimos do aviao, pisando o solo Africano, respirando o ar fresco desta terra. Para outros, este amor iniciou quando as nossas familias em Namaacha nos receberam com mãos abertas, com um banho de balde, e um prato cheio de xima.  Para mim, o meu amor por este pais tem crescido na medida em que eu observava a minha familia e escutava as historias que eles me contavam. 
A minha mãe analfabeta, que cumpri com todos os deveres da casa -pilando o amendoim, lavando a roupa, carregando a água, trabalhando na machamba – com uma forca e paciencia admiravel. E o meu pai, que cresceu na epoca de guerra civil e não podia jogar futbol no campo porque era perigoso estar fora de casa. Ele foi capturado duas vezes, mas cada vez, consegui fugir, e apesar das dificuldades que ele tem emfrentado na vida, ele olha so pra frente, construindo um futuro para sua familia. De fato, foi ele que construi tudo na propriedade onde eu vivi nesses dois meses -a casa, cozinha, latrina, casa de banho, ate as arvores foi ele que plantou.  Conhecendo essa familia mostrou me que o povo Moçambicano é um povo muito especial, e nós,os Americanos, temos muito que aprender deste povo. 
Então, ao sair daqui e espalharmo-nos pelas dez provinicias de Moçambique, nosso amor por este pais vai continuar a crescer. Alguns de nós vamos para o belo litoral Moçambicano, outros para as montanhas preciosas, e outros para o pleno mato onde alguns vão estar sem energia, outros sem agua, e alguns até vao ficar sem redemóvel. Mas não viemos buscando uma vida de luxo e conforto, viemos para servir e aprender do povo de Moçambique.
Caros voluntarios de educação, o trabalho que fica à nossa frente não vai ser facil. Sabemos que os desafios nessa área são muitas, mas tambem sabemos que a educação é um desafio em qualquer parte do mundo, até no nosso pais. No ultimo mês, estivemos dando aulas na Escola Secundaria de Namaacha, para prepararnos. Cada manhã durante a escola modelo, nós, os profesores americanos, ficavamos de pé com os nossos alunos Moçambicanos, e todos juntos cantávamos o hino nacional. A letra do coro deste hino é dificil esquecer, primeiramente porque é cantada seis vezes durante a canção, mas tambem porque é uma letra que tem muita significado.
Moçambique, nossa terra gloriosa! Caros colegas Moçambicanos, há dois meses atrás, nenhum de nós, os  voluntarios, poderiamos ter cantado essa frase com um coração sincero. Moçambique era a vossa terra, ainda não era a nossa terra. Mas pouco a pouco, na medida em que ficamos mais e mais encantados por este pais, vamos poder dizer que a vossa terra tambem é nossa terra gloriosa.
Pedra a pedra construindo um novo dia! Estamos aqui para contribuir a essa construção de um novo dia. As pedras que trouxemos são as aulas que vamos dar nas escolas de Moçambique, e os projectos em que vamos trabalhar para o desenvolvimento deste pais.
Milhões de braços, uma só forca!  Nós aqui, os voluntarios, somos 70, então entre nos temos 140 braços. Somos poucos e sabemos que sozinhos, os nosso braços não vão ter a força para fazer nada. Mas estamos aqui para unir com os vossos bracos, a nossa força com os milhoes de bracos que têm estado trabalhando para melhorar este pais.
Ó pátria amada! Esta é a frase chave, porque é o amor pela pátria, pelo povo representado por essa bandeira, que pode levar um país para frente. E é com esse amor que partimos para servir este pais, crendo que o amor vai nos guiar nesses dois anos, nos tempos frutiferos e nos tempos de dificuldade. E quando voltamos ao nosso país materno, voltaremos com  um pedaço de Moçambique no nosso coração.
Então, é com amor no nosso coraçao que queremos declarar junto com o povo Moçambicano as ultimas palavras do hino:
O patria amada, vamos vencer!
Thank You. Kaneemambu. Obrigado.


“I could never think about education without love. That is why I consider myself an educator: above all, because I feel love.”
These are the words of Paulo Freire, an educator who believed that education is a powerful tool, a means by which an oppressed people can be empowered.  And on this day in which our group of 70 Americans is committing the next two years of our lives to serve this country in the areas education and health, these are the words that echo in my heart.

As I was thinking about  the reasons that could make someone so crazy that they would leave behind absolutely everything -family, friends, cheese, Mexican food, houses, cars, and many other conveniences- and come to a place where none of this will be guaranteed, I concluded that, above all, what has motivated us to make this commitment is love.  A love for helping those around us and in our own community. This love has called us to step outside of our natural boundaries, outside of our comfort zones.

And now we find ourselves in Mozambique where during the past two months our love for this country and its people has begun to grow.  For some of us, this growth began the moment we stepped on African soil and breathed the fresh air, for others it may have begun when our host families in Namaacha welcomed us with open arms, an outdoor bucket bath, and a plate full of xima and matapa.   For me, this love began to take root as I observed my family and talked to them about their lives.

My illiterate mother who takes care of all the household chores– grinding the corn, scrubbing the clothes, fetching the water, working on the family farm-with strength and patience. And my dad, who grew up during the civil war. He was unable to play soccer as a boy because it was dangerous to stay outside the house for too long.  He was captured twice by rebel forces, but managed to escape both times. And in spite of the challenges he has faced in his life, he  only looks ahead, building a brighter future for his family.   He built everything on the property I've been living on with this family for the past two months -the 3-bedroom house, adjacent kitchen, bath house, latrine -and he even planted the fruit trees on their land. Getting to know this family has showed me that there is something special about the people of Mozambique and I, along with my fellow volunteers, have much to learn from this people.

As we  leave hear and spread out to the ten provinces of Mozambique, our love for this country will continue to grow. Some of us will be living along the precious Mozambican coastline, others will be surrounded by majestic mountains, and still others will be deep in the bush, lacking electricity, running water, and cell phone coverage. But we did not come here seeking comfort and convenience; we came to serve the people of Mozambique and to learn from them as well..

The task ahead for my fellow education volunteers is not an easy one.   We know that there are many challenges in this area, but we also know that education is a challenge in every country, even in the US. In the past month, as part of our training, we were teaching classes at the Secondary School of Namaacha. Every morning during this model school, we, the American teachers, would stand up with our Mozambican students, and together we would sing the national anthem. The chorus of this hymn is hard for me to forget, for the words are very meaningful.

Mozambique, our glorious land! Dear Mozambican colleagues, two months ago, none of us volunteers would be able to sing this phrase with a sincere heart. Mozambique was your land, it was still not our land.  But little by little, as we fall more and more in love with this country, we will be able to say that your land is also our glorious land.

Stone by stone, building a new day! We are here to contribute to this construction of a new day. The stones we have brought are the lessons we will be teaching in Mozambican schools and the community projects we will be working with for the development of this country.

Thousands of arms, one strength! We here, the volunteers, number only 70. So among us, we have 140 arms. We are few and we know that on our own, our arms won't have the strength to do anything.  But we are here to unite with your arms; our strength with the thousands of arms that have been tirelessly working for the betterment of this country.

Oh beloved motherland! This is the crucial phrase, for it is the love for the motherland, for the people represented by this flag, that can move a country forward.  It is with this love that we go out to serve this country, believing that this love will guide us in the next two years, in fruitful times and in difficult times. And when we return to our homeland, we will go back with a piece of Mozambique in our hearts.

Dear Mozambican colleagues, fellow volunteers, ladies and gentlemenm, it is with love in our hearts that we want to declare, with the people of Mozambique, the final words of this beloved anthem:

Oh beloved motherland, we will overcome!
Thank You. Kaneemambu. Obrigado.

Going to church...

My host dad's church. My dad is on the left, the pastor is on the right.
Church in Mozambique is quite interesting. I went to a couple of catholic churches in Namaacha. The services were pretty standard but the singing was a lot more beautiful than anything I remember hearing at other Catholic masses(I haven't been to that many in my life). The second Catholic church I went to had some crazy stuff go down a few days after I visited. The priest was being accused by some of the boys in the church of sexual abuse. I guess that's an issue over here too.

The evangelical churches, on the other hand, are a bit more interesting only because they are far more varied in their nature and so you never know what to expect. A group of volunteers were attending an Assemblies of God church with their families so I checked that one out a couple of times, since my family still hadn't gone to church since I'd arrived. The first time I went, after a bunch of different groups sang their songs -men, women, young women, old women, teenagers, kids, teenage boys, teenage girls -and after a few different offerings were taken which had everyone standing up, singing and walking to the front to drop a coin in the bucket, the pastor had each of the seven volunteers who were there that day introduce themselves and say what church they were from back in the US. This was pretty awkward for the Jewish volunteer and some of the other non-religious people in our group, but they all seemed to handle the situation pretty well.

I visited that church again a few weeks later with my friend Patti, who was really, really wanting to visit a church. We were the only non-Mozambicans  that Sunday, and when they had us stand up and introduce ourselves, they asked if we had a song to sing for them, since all the other groups had already sung that day. Luckily, I had brought my ukulele to church with me that day, so I sang a song that I had learned last time I was in Mozambique. “Jesus passando por aqui.” They knew the song and sang along with me! It was wonderful.

The following week, I didn't go to a church, but I did visit the Arco Iris children's center outside of Maputo. This was the group I came to Mozambique with last time I was here in 2005.  They have churches and children's centers throughout the country. As a matter of fact, this past Sunday, I was walking around my little ol' villa of Ribaue, talking to a stranger I had just met, and when I mentioned that I had come to Mozambique with Arco Iris five years ago, he told me that his uncle was a pastor of the Arco Iris church in town. He immediately took me to the church and we walked in just as the small congregation was getting ready to leave. It was 1:20pm and the service had started at 9am. When I walked in, they looked at me awkwardly, so I quickly introduced myself and after that, every single person came up to me to greet me, including a crippled man who had to crawl to get to me. We walked together back into the villa singing songs I hadn't heard since 2005. It was really special. Okay, back to the children's center outside of Maputo. So it was just me and Patti, my church companion. We got a tour of the whole place, heard a lot about what they do, and at the end, we got to play with a bunch of chicken-pocked kids.

On my last Sunday in Namaacha, I was sitting outside of my house, reading a book when my host dad suddenly got up and announced that he was heading  to church. This was the first time I saw him go to church, so I really wanted to go. I had him wait for me to get dressed and joined him, and I'm so glad I did. I texted Patti on the way, since, by now, I figured out that she's really into church stuff. We stopped by her house and scooped her up, and soon after, we came upon one of the more interesting church services I have ever been a part of (and I've been to a lot of church services). “Igreja Zione Apostolica Jerussalema de Mocambique.” That was the name of the church, haphazardly painted in white on a small piece of thin cardboardy wood that hung on a tilt on the wall behind the altar. The small church was made of mud and stones and most of the church members sat on mats laid out on the dirt floor. But Patti and I were given seats at the altar looking out into the congregation, right next to the pastor and a few other men who occupied the altar. The pastor and my host dad wore white lab coats with a green border on the end of the sleeves and at the bottom edge of the coat. One woman, who my host dad told me later was a prophetess, also wore a white coat or cape of sorts, with a big red cross sewed onto the side.  The service, conducted entirely in Shangaana, the local language –oh ya, I forgot to mention that all these services I've been going to have been almost completely in Shangaana, so I've never had a clue as to what was being preached. So at the church, a young man did a lot of the scripture reading. Later, when I asked my dad what had been read, he told me that they had read the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer, two passages which they read every week. That Sunday, they also read a passage about the blessing of having children, since five women were dedicating their children to God. The pastor asked Patti to pray for each of these women. Thankfully, since Patti is familiar with church stuff, she didn't flip out, and went ahead and prayed for each woman. Then, almost every person in the church stood up, sang a song, said something in the local language, and then walked up to me and Patti and greeted us with a handshake or a hug or a kiss or combination of the three. It's as if the whole service was revolving around us. A little bit strange but definitely memorable.

One weird thing did happen after church however. My dad was translating some of the things that had been said during the service and he mentioned that the pastor had told the women who were having their babies dedicated how lucky they were to have a white person praying for their kids, since God is white. First off, Patti is Filipina, so she's not even white, but second, and more importantly, if God does have a skin color, it's definitely not white.  I told this to my dad. It wasn't that big a deal for him.

Although I feel like I have at least a little bit of insight as to what faith means to people in the US, I think I am still very far from understanding what faith means to people in Mozambique. While I'm certain there are similarities, it seems to me thus far, that the differences are kind of big. That's something I'm looking forward to exploring during my time here.

China, India and Brazil. Reppin' it in Mozambique

Chinese construction workers. The chinese are responsible for a lot of the newer buildings and roads that are being built, including the brand new school I will be teaching at this coming year.

 As I was walking through the streets of Nampula, Mozambique's third largest city,  a tabloid-y headline caught my eye: CHINESES FRITAM COLEGAS (Chinese fry co-workers). Next to the headline was a  large photo of a Mozambican man with a badly burned face.  A few weeks earlier, I had read an article about a Chinese boss who had punished his Mozambiquan employees at a coal mine by burning them with hot oil. I think that's what this tabloid was about. Later that day, I went to a “chinese store”-that's how it was described to me -where we were told we could buy cheap guitars (the guitars ended up being super cheap both in quality and in price). The store was owned by a Chinese man who has been in Mozambique for three years doesn't speak a lick of Portuguese. His Mozambiquan employees don't speak any Chinese so all communication happens through gestures and the numbers on the boss's calculator. As we were walking back to our hotel, I peaked into a photo store that sold cameras and developed film and guess who I saw taking pictures? A chinese guy. This was all in one day. I'm from California, have visited China, and went to Yale (a school that has a bizarre love affair with China) so it's not that I'm shocked to be seeing Chinese people. It's just that, I didn't expect to see so many of them in Mozambique. I took development classes in college and read about all the Chinese investment in Africa, but it's different when you see it. Oh! And the school where I'll be teaching at for the next two year along with the adjacent teacher housing where I'll be living. It's all brand-spankin' new and guess who built it: the Chinese. This is one of the things I hope to find out more about during my time here – China and it's relationship to Africa. Seriously. I think I've seen more Chinese writing out and about, on cars and products, than English which makes me believe that maybe China really is becoming the bigger imperialist in these parts.

But actually, if we're going to talk about foreign influence in Mozambique, I think Brazil would win the award for having the most influence in this country. Last year when I was visiting my relatives in Brazil, I started watching a hilarious soap opera, Caminho Das Indias, which tells the story of an upper class Brahmin girl who falls in love with Dalit -untouchable – not knowing that he was a Dalit since he had been abandoned by his family and raised by a Brahmin. She gets impregnated by the Dalit, but can't marry him when she finds out his social class, so quickly gets married to some Brahmin guy who had been dating a Brazilian girl -and who also impregnated her-but who couldn't marry hers since she wasn't Indian. And well, it gets complicated and these soap operas are wont to do. All this to say that I started watching it in Brazil last year, but I left in the middle of it, before the plot had really taken off, and then I show up in Mozambique and guess what soap opera is being shown on prime time, 8:30pm TV? Caminho das Indias. But it's only one of many Brazilian soap operas that get played over here. There's also a Portuguese soap opera that plays on the Portuguese channel, but I don't hear anyone talking about that one.  So it's pretty much the Brazilians running the television over here. The two main channels that were watched in my Namaacha home, TV Record, owned by the Igreja Universal do Reindo de Deus, and a channel that started with an “S”, play Brazilian programming all day, save for a couple hours of news. There's one show called “O Melhor do Brasil”  (The Best of Brazil) which plays what my mom would call porcaria, junk. It's kind of sad, but I'm definitely not proud of the media that Brazil is importing to their Mozambican brothers and sisters. However, I do beam with pride every time I see someone sporting a Brazil shirt, sandal, flag or anything Brazil, and that happens a lot. I usually tell people I'm Brazilian first, 'cus they seem to like that more, and then if we talk more, I'll mention that I was born in the US.

So ya, that's a bit about the Chinese and the Brazilians, and now, I got to talk about the Indians. I don't have that much to say about them except that they are the businessmen of Mozambique, and they have been for quite some time.  When I was in Pemba, five years ago, I remember that the main grocery store in town was owned by a very nice Indian gentleman. In Namaacha, one of the food shops that sold a lot of stuff was owned by an Indian, and here in my little town of Ribaue, two of the main stores, along with a huge water bottling plant at the foot of the mountain, are owned by one Indian family. Unlike the Chinese, however, the Indians who are here seem to fully Mozambican since they've been here for quite awhile. The storeowner in Namaacha, for example, has never been to India, and when asked, didn't express any desire to visit. He's just as Mozambican as his African customers.

All this to say, Mozambique has its fair share of diversity, which I didn't expect coming here and it's been pleasant and interesting to see.