Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Now means now

I once took a class that focused on the social construction of time, basically discussing how open ended time really was depending on cultural interpretation. While interesting, I never really connected with its ideas until I experienced them on a tangible, emotional level. I say emotional because when someone is late--or god forbid when I am running late--the response is visceral. Being late is bad.

We say that we are on Mozambican time here. We are finally getting used to it, or at least expecting it, after a few months in the country. Yesterday I was told we'd play basketball at 2:00, and we didn't start until 3:15. A part of me wanted to be livid, but the rules just aren't the same here, and patience as they say is a virtue.

The most telling difference is the word "agora." Agora means 'now.' No bones about it, look it up in the dictionary, the word means 'now.' So when I ask my host brother if he's ready to leave and he says "sim, agora" and I wait for him as he chases Caozinho around I am in disbelief. How rude! How inconsiderate! 'Now' is one of the most unambiguous words in the history of words.

I've discussed this with my fellow PCVs (that's Peace Corps Volunteers to you citizens) and we've all experienced frustration with the word "now". There's even variations on "agora." We have "agora mesma", loosely 'right now.' We have "de aqui a nada" or "de aqui a poco", which can mean anything from 'right away' to 'right this very second' to some other vaguely nowish time.

Despite these words I remained confused. I was leaving for the local hang out spot to catch up with some friends, I ran into my host mom along the way and told her I'd be back soon. She said, "No, we say I'll be back agora, or de aqui a nada." But I wasn't coming back now, I was coming back soon. Aha! Agora really doesn't mean now! I'd been lied to. This means war.

Surprise, surprise, it turns out to be a little more complicated than that. The concept of "now", as evidenced by the very words in their lexicon (the ones that express ideas, thoughts, feelings…) are wishy-washy on this whole "now" thing. It's not because they are all a bunch of lazy scallywags, its because they experience time a little differently.

In the states we feel time as a precise and pressurized thing. I absolutely despise being late. More metaphorically, time Is constantly chasing us down. Here it is less confining. That isn't to say that the way we (United States) view time is necessarily negative, it allows us to fit more into our day and maintain a tighter order on things. But equally it doesn't mean that Mozambicans are a bunch of lazies that never get anything done--on the contrary what a Mozambican mother can do in a day is at times staggering. It's just a little different.

I manage to convey "now" by leaping up and down, pointing at my feet and shouting "THIS SECOND, THIS EXACT MOMENT" in Portuguese.

Anyways a week and a half at site, and things are going pretty good. I've cleaned out my house and am planning to paint it. I've been meeting people everywhere, playing volleyball, getting to know my town. In moments of boredom or loneliness I walk outside and look at the ocean, and that pretty much solves it right there.

Three days until Christmas, I have been attending the nightly masses, and heard "Silent Night" in Portuguese. But myboy Bing Crosby does it better. I've been blasting it on my computer all day.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Holidays in Mozambique

I wake up and brush away my mosquito net. I walk outside feeling refreshed after a full night's sleep. It's seven am, I've woken up late by Mozambican standards. The Indian Ocean is just a block away. I look out over the endless bluegreen water. I feel the soft white sand under my feet. As the warm breeze passes over me I feel a stirring deep inside me…

Diarrhea, I tell myself, is normal.

I walk resignedly back to the bathroom to give my daily offering. The food, the transition, is doing a number on my intestines. But by this time the number is a familiar one, however that sounds. A wasp flies into my bathroom and I leap up from the toilet in a panic with my shorts still around my ankles. Unfortunately that's normal too.

My house is concrete with a metal roof, I have a sink, and outside a bathroom. I have running cold water and a little electricity. The walls are hideously painted by the former volunteer who lived here, but I can fix that. I live on a Catholic mission. My neighbors are two priests, a couple of seminarians, a few nuns…sounds like high school.

I have to remind myself constantly that what I am going through is normal. I'm in a brand new place on the other side of the world. My Portuguese gradually improves, but much to my dismay in the streets here they speak Shi-tswa, the local Bantu language. In some moments I feel like I can speak great, and others I feel discouraged and worried that I'll never really catch up. But that's normal.

I take a barefoot run along the beach. The sand is soft and perfect for jogging. As I run down the beach I hit the point where I feel invincible and pick up the pace. A gaggle of Mozambican boys stares at me as I run past. I give them a big thumbs up and a smile, and I am happy to see them laugh and wave. Taking my eyes off the beach causes me to trip on a mound of sand and I fall flat on my face with a WUMP. I stand up dazed, trying to figure out what the hell just happened, covered in sand. The boys are laughing to tears. Seeing no alternative I give them another thumbs up and keep going. Two years, I remind myself, I have two years to get this right.

I sit down after my run and enjoy the endorphin high. I take deep breaths and let my mind wander. I smile to myself remembering a joke my little brother made (one of those ridiculously innappropriate ones that I will take to my grave). I tell everyone I meet that he's the funniest person I know.

I worry a little about Christmas. I know that I won't be opening presents in my living room surrounded by my family, anxiously awaiting my turn to tear the wrapping to shreds in anticipation. It won't be cold, there will be no lights and no ornamented trees--but I do have a solid collection of Bing Crosby's Christmas on my ipod (Hawain Christmas!). It might be a lonely night, but hey, that's normal. And I'll be fine.

The beans are almost done. I decide to take a shower before I take them off the heat. I remind myself that living on the beach, thousands of miles from home, amongst total strangers, for two years, is not normal. I feel good about what I am doing, though I am confused as to how exactly I should do it at this point. While I was an orientation counselor one of my freshman described me as one of the most "adventurous men she had ever known". Say that in my eulogy, baby, and my family will laugh you out of the building.

I look over the Indian Ocean and remember how far away I am. I miss my father's voice, I miss my mom. I look around and try to think about what my brother would think about all this. My longing for my family and for my home is too normal to wax poetic. Thinking of them every day is too predictable to be interesting. But I miss them just the same.

Normal? HA!

PS I have a mailing address now! I can't post it online due to Peace Corps regulations, but email me and I'll send it no problem. And then you'll send me candy!

PPS I saw Courtney today! I'll post her guest appearance...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Stardate 2301: Carry your Papers

I've haven't updated my blog in a while because the one available internet connection in my village went down. TIA etc.

This morning I woke up to screaming. Adrenaline crashed into my sleepy haize, is that a person?! I quickly realized it wasn't. But what else could be making that noise...Caozinho!

I leapt out of bed and ran into the backyard in my bozers and sandals. There was caozinho, my family's three month old, completely adorable watery eyed puppy surrounded by the same roosters that wake me up at three every morning. Caozinho was in trouble. And I hate those damn roosters.

LEAVE HIM ALONE!! Was my mighty battle cry as I sprinted across the yard. A few swift kicks and insults and the roosters were gone. Caozinho graciously licked my feet with his tiny tongue, and I remembered why I joined the Peace Corps: to be a hero. God Bless America.

Then I looked up to find my mozambican mother staring bewildered at me. She laughed about this the rest of the day. Caozinho follows me everywhere now.

Yes, Moz life as they say is almost in full swing. I say almost because next week I am leaving for my site after three months of intensive training. I'll be working at a Dominican Mission two hundreds yards from the beach. It means I'll have a house of my own, a mailing address for people to send me letters and candy (HINT SEND ME CANDY HINT). It means I'll finally be out on my own surrounded by people who don't speak english, expected to improve their lives in some way. But seriously send me candy.

Ok, a quick story. We'll call it "The Scariest Thing that has Ever Happened to Colin" or "Why Colin Recommends Carrying a Spare pair of Underpants At All Times".

So a group of us Peace Corps Trainees went to the capital city, Maputo, to buy things and enjoy th bustle of city life. It's the holidays here too, so there are more tourists, more street vendors etc. After a two hour ride crammed in a chapa I was eager to see what the city had for me. Ice cream? Dare I wish for a milkshake?

About half an hour in I am walking down the street when a police officer stops me on the street. He's asking for my papers. He has an AK-47 (it's literally on the Mozambican flag). I'm only to happy to oblige.

Except that much to my dismay I do not have my papers. I had taken them out the day before because they had gotten wet.

Right about then, me wishing I had a spare pair of boxers, the officer informed me that I would be placed under arrest, taken to the jailhouse, and that I would be turned over to immigration in two days. I pulled out my phone and called my boss, she picked up thank God, and I explained my situation. "Oh shit" she helpfully advised. And then, "Ok, give him the phone."

Not about my boss. She's a six foot, extremely fashionable, well educated Mozambican badass. The cop, as smug as he was when he knew he had me, handed me the phone back eyes downcast. My boss simply said, "Walk away now, get on a Chapa and get out of Maputo." Ten four, captain! I made a beeline for the chapas without hesitation

One hundred yards later I was stopped by another police officer. Need I say that having a spare SPARE pair of boxers would have been nice. But this one seemed a little more interested in me "helping him buy something for his boss." Hmmmm...I called my boss again. She sent a car that picked me up and wisked me away.

Never, never, NEVER walk around in a foreign country without your passport. To say that it was my fault is an understatement. It was like SUPER my fault, a mistake I will never make again. When I got back to my host village the relief I felt was palpable. The feeling of refuge reminded me how much I love my village, and am sad to leave it.

Onwards and upwards.

PS I can read emails but often can't respond, and I've been told that I'll have more available internet at site!

PPS Write me! Send me candy! I'd give one of my kidneys for a twix bar...