Saturday, October 31, 2009

Chapter 4: Garbage cans much?

In the US everyone wants somewhere to put their garbage, but no one wants a landfill in their backyard. Understandable. Stagnant trash and waste smells awful and renders the soil inert to new growth.

In Mozambique there are no landfills, so everyone has one in their backyard. It's either buried in holes as far from the house as one can manage, or it is burned. We can all imagine the acrid smell of burning plastic from when we threw a little piece onto the campfire. Now magnify that 30x.

There are no social services for these people, so what other option do they have? Even in the places where there are public garbage programs they often simply will not come at all. They have to get rid of it, they certainly can't bury it in their neighbor's yard, or haul it a mile into the wilderness every week. It leaves only one reluctant alternative.

Their predicament is assuaged by the fact that Mozambicans generate a fraction of the waste that we do. But a little burning plastic goes a long way.

It's a huge problem on the continent that merits serious consideration. And undoubtedly there are at least a few NGOs targeting the problem. But like a former volunteer said, "I went to Nepal to work on woman's rights. But all the women wanted to talk about was their crops. They didn't want to talk about women's rights, they wanted to make sure they had enough food to eat." And I don't blame them.

I find out about my site on Thanksgiving day. Lord knows where I'll end up. Next week we travel throughout the country to visit the sites of current volunteers. It's a reminder of how very temporary this training is.

My old friend Jamie talked about seeing a For Sale sign on my house's front lawn in Sacramento. Whoa.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Chapter 3: Milungu

I have no idea how you spell it, but "Milungu" is what the locals call it. It's the word for "white foreigner" in the local language, Changane. It sounds like a racial slur when they shout it at you on the street, but I have been assured by several Mozambicans that it isn't. And we are the Milungus, the talk of the town.

Or just the travelling freak show. Oh, how they stare. You get used to having every single Mozambican you pass stare at you (which in the village is a lot). What I am not getting used to is the random, ridiculously juvenile outbursts spewed at us by groups of young dudes. Their banal comments and foolishness only serve to remind me that yes, young dudes are stupid here just like they are in the states.

The thing is: Mozambicans are really just nice. Almost everyone you pass gives you a "goodafternoon" or at least a friendly nod. Young men my age most often give me the thumbs up and say only "It's all good" in Portuguese as they pass. If you look lost for even a moment they stop to help. And even the comments that may seem rude you quickly learn are just mishandled attempts to reach out. We are weird and new here, after all. And if you play along and turn their weird interjection into a friendly joke they almost always respond well.

The kids love me. Little boys here, just as in the states, just want you to chase them. And I do. I threaten to devour them as I chase them screaming down the streets. My six year old brother and I have become fast friends. He even let me cut his hair (which I might add went disastrously for the little bugger, but I gave him Nerds and he was appeased).

My portuguese is bad. But the thing is so is the Portuguese of a lot of the residents, who prefer the local language to the national one. It can make for some awkward moments. I tried to say that I forgot something, but as I tapped myself on the forehead to demonstrate they thought I was saying that I had burned my face. The words are really close ok give me a break.

I even went to a mass, conducted in Changane (and translated into Portuguese for the four Milungus present). Though for the most part a little slow, the singing is powerful. As I stood there listening to the words I couldn't understand I was overcome. I was embarassed by my reaction but one of the Mozambicans saw me and forced me to join a dance. And I did not represent America well. I think I stepped on an old lady.

I miss Mexican food, microwaves, my brother, being able to pet dogs, flushing toilets, not dealing with giant spiders, and being able to talk to people. But all in all, things are pretty damn good right now.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Chapter 2: I doubt it was something I DIDN'T eat

My great aunt has always said that the two worst things in the world are nausea and loneliness.

Yesterday I woke up at 2 am and couldn't get back to sleep before my wake up time of 5:30. It was just one of those things, no reason for it that I could see. But it was all it took for me to get sick. A few hours later I was sharing my lunch with the toilet, the greedy bastard. My host mother mentioned that it was probably because I didn't eat enough for dinner. I refrained from blaming her cooking for the rock concert in my intestines.

As far as illness goes, it has been fairly mild. I've had much worse back in the states. But there's nothing like being ill to make you homesick. I called my mom, and felt my first real pangs of being away.

But my family here has been great. They made me soup (which the greedy toilet also stole from me), and they are currently making me my favorite dish. Their concern lead them to knock on my door at 5am, and again at 6, and again at 6:30. When I tried to explain that I should probably sleep, they explained that I should probably eat, and my mom sat next to me and watched me (grinning sweetly) until I ate what she thought was an appropriate amount of soup. Two ibuprofens later I was sleeping again, and feeling better already.

And I'm mostly over it now, only a day of feeling under the weather is not bad at all. My friend stopped by with candy and a hard drive full of movies, which made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I watched American History X. I probably should have just watched Family Guy like all the normal kids.

A word on food: carbs. Carbs carbs carbs. White rice, fried potato, xima (pronounced sheema) which is essentially corn mash. This has the effect of making all the guys skinnier and all the women fatter, or so we've been told by all the Volunteers we have spoken to so far. It is a slow quest to explain to my family that I want more vegetables, fruit and meats. My family has been receptive, however.

Now I get eggs in the morning sometimes (bathed, soaked, lathered in oil), more fish, and the fruits that are in season, which these days are apples, bananas, and papaya. The bananas are small and appear overripe, but are delicious--a sharp contrast to the ginormous, yellow mutant bananas in the Westwood Ralph's. Papaya does a number on your gag reflex until you get used to it.

My most recent campaign has been my most important: peanut butter, of which there is only one brand, "Black Cat," which my family thought the substance was actually called. I now get it almost every meal. God bless America.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Chapter one: If you don't know something, you can't just google it, you have to just not know it

Where could I possibly begin?

I have a toilet. I'm lucky too, most of the Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs) with me poo in holes in the ground in dark outhouses (imagine doing this at night). It doesn't flush, but it's pearly shine is something to be appreciated in Mozambique, and rest assured I do.

I shower out of a bucket, pouring water over my head with a cup. I sleep under a mosquito net. We have running water one day a week, and if it doesn't rain not even that much. I live with a Mozambican woman and her family who shares the property with the husband's second wife, and the husband died years ago.

My family? Elisa is the matriarch. She is a big, boisterous, happy lady. She is wonderful with me, but doesn't cut me too much slack. At 5:30 am last week she knocks on my door. I open it bleary eyed and confused. She hands me a broom and says "clean your room" and walks off. The next day I return from class. "You are smelly," she says, "you should take a bath before dinner." Aah, mothers. They're all the same really. It's comforting.

The eldest daughter in the house Melita is 26 and has a 6 year old son. Lotina is the next and she has an eight month old, add to that the kids from the second wife, and the various other children whom I don't know at all running in and out of our house. The kids spent the first week squealing and running away every time they saw me, and now they won't leave me alone unless I pick them and flip them over and over and over and over. "Mais! Uma mais!" they scream. But I'm a sucker for kids.

My portuguese? Terrible. It's a lot of dumbfounded looks and drooling. It has improved hugely in this first week, but I still can't really speak in the past tense, which as it turns out is kind of a big deal.

Am I happy? It's a crazy time for me. The jet lag was epic. The food did its predictable tap dance through my digestive system. I don't really speak the language. The days are busy. From what I can tell my task is daunting, to teach a class of between 60-100 students who speak a language that I don't yet know.

I had a dream that I was about to leave for the Peace Corps, and I was afraid and in tears, full of fear and regret. But when I woke up and looked around my room (well, mostly just my mosquito net) I realized that I want this more than I have wanted anything in my life up to this point.

I'm still adjusting, I miss a lot of things. I miss being able to google stuff. I miss my friends, sure, I miss my family. But I'm learning the guitar, I am learning a new language, and hey I even have a toilet.

Damn, this has been the longest two weeks of my life.