Friday, January 10, 2014

Once I rose above the noise and confusion . . .

I've been back in the United States for about two months now and a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer for just as long . . . and it's been a little crazy. As I haven't written a blog post for awhile (final apology for not being the most religious blogger over the last two years), this last blog will attempt to wrap things up.

I hadn't taught for several weeks before leaving Mozambique. Classes end fairly early as we have final exams and provincial tests to get through. This required me to engage in my favorite job as a teacher - proctoring exams for other classes, an exercise which I actually despise. Working in a classroom with students I don't know (and therefore can't call out when they're cheating, talking, or generally being ridiculous) was actually one of the most difficult and dreaded parts of the school year. Those who follow my blog - or who have spoken to me at almost any point during the last two years - know that one of my biggest teaching issues was classroom management. And attempting to manage a class that wasn't my own just sucked. Plus, no one else wanted to proctor the classrooms of 50 boys . . . so I'm the lucky one who was signed up for that duty

While parts of the last weeks of school definitely stunk, I also worked to say goodbye to my classes and hosted a party for my winning English classroom. This last semester I had a contest between my 3 English turmas, basically every class the turma would start with 10 points and I would take away points for talking in Portuguese (except to ask questions and for grammar discussions), talking in Xitswa, and any and all cell phones. Surprisingly, this strategy ended up working fairly well (thank goodness because cell phones in the classroom drive me CRAZY) and my reward for the "winning" turma was a s'mores party. I was a little worried about the whole thing - like all teens, my students frequently pretend to be "too cool" for these kinds of things, plus most Mozambicans avoid trying new kinds of food. But we made a little fire and got out my last care package filled with marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate . . . and proceeded to create a group of s'more obsessed Mozambicans. They loved the s'mores and the party was a great way to start to say goodbye.

Saying goodbye to Inhassoro was strange. By the end of year one I was so ready to be done that I assumed that I would be beyond ready to leave by the end. But really I could have stayed longer. It's not that I wasn't ready to move back to the US (hot showers, goldfish crackers, and the rest of the West Wing seasons meant that the US would win out every time :) ), but it's just that I wasn't as DONE with Mozambique as I had expected. While it has still been a weird transition, it's not the complete jumping-off-a-cliff kind of transition that I had experienced when I moved to Moz. And even though I still don't have a job or a plan for this nine month period before I start law school, I still moved back to an English speaking country where the majority of my friends and family live. Things in the US may take some getting used to - but let's be real, I have lived here before and life is a bit easier and more Starbucks filled.

After leaving Moz, a couple of other COS-ing PCVs and I headed to Ethiopia where we crammed as much site-seeing as physically possible in a two week period. We checked out the rock-hewn churches in Lalibela:

and the castles at Gondar:

trekked through the Simien National Park:

spent some time on the monastery island dotted lake at Bahir Dar:

and enjoyed some time in Addis. Then I hopped on a plane to DC (via Riyadh). I was rather nervous about this trip as it involved spending 15 hours in an airport of a country that I'm not actually allowed to enter (Saudi Arabia requires female visitors to be met/accompanied by a father/brother/husband). But the trip went well and my arrival in DC began the great train trip across America.

After two weeks in DC I took the train to Milwaukee, spent a weekend with Anna and Jeff, took another train to Albuquerque to spend a week with Amanda, and then (finally) took the train to Tacoma. While I love trains, this was a bit much even for me (fyi: the America railway pass through Amtrak was a great deal if you're planning on taking a long train trip).

Since then I've been hanging out in Sequim, getting addicted to various tv shows (Scandal, Sherlock, etc), and attempting to figure out what to do with my life. I have 9 months until law school . . . and it's unclear what that time will involve. But for now I'm trying to remind myself that:
1) I can't/shouldn't stop at the bus stop and ask random people if they'd like a ride. Hitchhiking isn't a thing in the US and what would be kindness in Mozambique is just plain creepy in the States
2) Tangerines here aren't the same as in Moz (same with pineapples, mangos, and cashews). Stop buying them and expecting them to be.
3) Moz slang/Portuguese words randomly inserted into conversations just make life here awkward (even if there is no real English translation)
4) Not having a life plan isn't the end of the world (commence attempts to limit hyperventilation)

And there are probably a million more of these that I need to work on . . . but I can't currently think of them.

In general life in the US is going well . . . although weird at times. And one can only hope that I quickly find a job/hobby/something to do soon. Before I actually go crazy. I miss Moz - all of its random insanity that (somewhat surprisingly) eventually became normal.

I'm still fairly skeptical about blogging, so this fairly unsatisfying conclusion most likely represents the end of my blogger status. My time in Moz cannot be wrapped up in a nice paragraph - the last two years have been full of ups and downs and the intense complexity of attempting to get to know and integrate into a community and culture completely different than my own. While I most definitely enjoyed the experience, it was much more complicated than that. And my current feelings about Moz are best represented in Portuguese (per usual there is no real translation) as "saudades".

So please don't ask "how was Africa?" unless you want to hear "fine" (but I'd love to tell you about my two years teaching in Inhassoro). 

Tchau for now

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

And we're fallin' fast

Fair warning: This is not a happy blog post. While it is true that I will be COS-ing in a few short weeks and am so excited to travel and visit family and friends, this is not that post.

Two weeks ago one of my students passed away. I showed up to school for the morning assembly (we all gather in the courtyard for the national anthem, prayer, and announcements) and there my school's director announced that a pregnant, sixteen year-old student had died the day before. She had gone to the hospital for medication earlier in the week, where they had apparently given her the wrong medicine, causing a miscarriage. The hospital in Inhassoro couldn't help her, so they sent her to Vilankulo (she probably took a chapa as we don't have ambulances) and she passed away after getting to the hospital. The death was completely preventable had she been given the right medications or lived anywhere near an adequate hospital.

This announcement was made without warning - some of the students obviously already knew, but it came as a complete surprise to many. Her death was so sad, and what made it even worse was the lack of surprise/outrage/so many other emotions that would be felt in a society where the death of a sixteen year-old girl is not a common occurrence. In the US, her close friends would have most likely stayed at home for a day or two, school counselors would have had open office hours to talk to grieving students, and teachers would have been told to watch for signs of emotional distress. Here, we said a quick prayer and went to class. My English students said "I'm sad, Teacher" and then moved on to describing what had happened that weekend.

This is not the first reminder of the omnipresence of death in Mozambique. Every Monday I ask my English students "How was your weekend?" so that they can practice speaking in the past tense. And all too frequently at least one student will mention that their mother, father, aunt, uncle, or cousin passed away. Even after two years, these statements make me stop in my tracks. What do you say (in Portguese) to a student whose father died yesterday? When "I'm sorry" doesn't even begin to describe how you feel? When you just really want to tell them that they should go home and be with their family? These sentiments are difficult in English.

I sometimes worry that I am becoming desensitized to death and innumerable other things that are simply accepted here. That I should have been more strongly affected by the death of my student. That I should have something to say to my students who have lost family members.  The other day when a teacher walked into a test I was proctoring and smacked three kids on the back of their heads because they didn't have their ties on, should I have protested? Done something else other than standing there dumbfounded?

These past 27 months in Mozambique have been a learning experience. However, there are some things that I never want to learn. I never want a student's death not to affect me. I may never have the words to properly explain my feelings, but I want my students to know that this reality is not acceptable. That hitting a student for not wearing their tie (when they also aren't wearing shoes because they don't have the money for them) is not normal. And that a death of a teenager should never be a commonplace event. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

It's waiting there for you

43 days left in Mozambique . . .

At the beginning of September, almost all of the Moz-17 PCVs headed down to Maputo to stay in a very nice hotel and learn all about re-integration, the steps we'll go through to become a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, and how to find a real job when we get back into the States. While we could have used more information about what we consider to be the more important readjustment issues (what exactly is instagram? snapchat? do people use google+? are genie pants an actual trend? and what in the world is YOLO?), the conference tried to address common issues and how other people have successfully made the transition.

This whole transition issue is rather overwhelming. I have great post-PC trip plans (Ethiopia, DC for Thanksgiving, train to Milwaukee then Albuquerque then Tacoma) . . . but after that I still have January to August (at which point I will hopefully begin law school). Yes, having that kind of time to transition will be nice. But really, can/should I just sit in Sequim for nine months? Will I find someone who will hire me even if it's only for a couple of months? Summer internships? And all of the other job-related issues that I've managed to avoid since moving to Moz that somehow are still sitting there waiting for my return.

Not only am I theoretically supposed to find some kind of employment/get into law school/etc, but there have been engagements, weddings, babies, job changes, grad school acceptances, graduations, and cross-country moves . . . all of which I've missed. Not that I would have traded my Peace Corps experience, even teaching chemistry, for anything. But at times it feels as though everyone has suddenly grown-up while I've been stuck in a sort of limbo for two years.

So, in preparation for my return, I'm going to ask everyone to be a little patient. When it takes me twenty minutes to type on a text on an iphone. Or when I continue to start sentences with "when I was in Mozambique . . . "And don't be too shocked when I lament the lack of hitchhiking in the United States. So, fingers crossed for a successful last 43 days . . . and hopefully a blog post or two more.

Miss you all. See you soon!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Tell me, how long you gonna stay here Joe?

So about a month ago I left you all hanging on the edge of your seats, waiting for the next installment of tales from Allison's summer vacation. And this of course was where the trip became really fun.

I stayed with some PCVs in Cuamba and the next day woke up bright and early to catch any form of transportation heading towards the Malawian border. Niassa was my 10th province to cross off the list for a good reason - it's basically the Siberia of Mozambique. The unpaved road between Cuamba and the border was like driving on those extremely bumpy lines they put on the side of roads in the States (can't remember what they're called). Except this continued for upwards of four hours. Then I got to the border town and had to use my favorite form of transportation - the bike cab - to get across the border. When you think of a bike cab you probably think of one of those bikes that are sometimes used in cities - the ones that have more or less a carriage/cart attached to them for passengers. This was not one of those cabs. You know the thing they put on the back of a bike to carry groceries? Yep, that's what I was sitting on for about 30 minutes while some poor guy peddled me across the border. Of course I also had my rather large backpacking backpack that weighed at least twenty pounds. So it was the "driver", me in the grocery spot and then my backpack. I was fairly positive we were going to flip.

When I had fully recovered from the most awkward form of transportation I have yet to use, I got to the Malawian side of the border. And realized that I do not like travel in Malawi. Unlike in Mozambique, the chapas (minibuses) from one place to another have no set price (for example, in Mozambique all chapas that go from Inhassoro to Vilankulo charge 80 mets) and I seemed to meet all the wrong people. As far as I understand Malawi has two national languages, but everyone refused to speak to me in the one I understand (English). At one point in my ridiculously long journey to Blantyre there was someone speaking a local language to the guy sitting next to me who would then translate into Portuguese. Which seemed to kind of defeat the whole purpose of travel in an English speaking country

When I finally made it to Blantyre, it was dark, I was exhausted and I never wanted to take a Malawian chapa again. Made it to the hostel and realized that I did not have enough money to pay for the room and they did not take cards. So one of the workers walked me out to the cash machine in front of the hostel. Of course, that cash machine had no money (but deducted money from my account anyways, fun times). So the security guard had to walk with me for about twenty minutes to find a functioning ATM. The next morning I woke up bright and early in order to get on a bus that was going to Zimbabwe (it had to cross through Moz and would be the easiest way to get to my next destination). At 4:30 I was more than ready to go, but the bus people claimed that the only bus going to Zimbabwe would be leaving at eight. Okay, fine, not great, but whatever. The driver said we'd definitely make it to the crossroads for Chimoio by 2pm, giving me plenty of time to make it to another PCV's house.

That was obviously a blatant lie. The bus did not leave Blantyre until almost noon for reasons still unknown to me as the bus manager informed me that since I was in Malawi I should be able to speak their local language and that he didn't have to translate anything into English. By this point I was basically freaking out. And things only continued to go downhill. When we stopped at the Malawian side of the border I got out of the bus, had my passport stamped and was back on the bus within ten minutes. It took everyone else almost three hours. It wasn't because they had problems with their passports or visas, it was just that no one got into the line until we had been sitting there for two hours. After all of that nonsense (plus another bus breakdown or two) I made them drop me off in Tete City where I stayed with two other PCVs who had been evacuated from their sites due to the ongoing political situation. Tete was my 11th (or 10th, depending on how you count) province which officially means I have visited (and stayed in) all eleven-ish provinces! YAY!

Actually this is where my trip was supposed to end. In theory, I was to travel to Chimoio the next day and bus/boleia it down to Inhassoro. But this is Mozambique and we really like to keep things exciting around here. So nothing went as planned. As I had previously mentioned, the opposition party had blocked a very key point in the (only) road that runs from the south to the north of Mozambique. Which also happened to be my only route home. As of now I believe the road is still blocked, military convoys are being used to ferry people across the blockade. But back in the beginning of July we had no idea how long the road block would last, so the PCVs in the Sofala province (the province where the incidents were occurring) and I just sat in Chimoio, waiting for news of when we could go back to site. We made up projects to keep ourselves busy such as bagel-making (best bagels I've made in Moz) and had a great Fourth of July party thanks to the variety of foods that are available in larger cities (I made brownies that were topped by a layer of peanut butter cream and then a layer of chocolate fudge. Win.). And I ended up staying there for a week. At which point Peace Corps put me on a flight to Maputo and the next morning I got on a bus to Inhassoro (only to have there be a traffic accident so I couldn't make it to Inhassoro on the same day and stayed with Laurie and Chris in Mapinhane.).

And so concludes the epic summer break trip in which I passed through all but one province (which is pretty impressive considering the travel conditions in this country). At this point I resolved never to leave site again . . . a promise that was a little difficult to keep as on August 25th I headed back to America, to the great state of Minnesota for Anna's wedding. While the travel itself was a little crazy (I've never had a bag lost before and on this trip the airlines managed to lose and recover two) it was so great to be able to be at Anna and Jeff's wedding (I can't imagine not being there). Plus I got s'mores and a Costco run out of the deal :)

And now I'm back at school . . . where things are crazy, but quickly coming to an end. We're almost done with the third quarter, all of the Moz-17 PCVs have our close-of-service conference in September, there are only 82 days until I'm a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, I have started working on finding a some form of post-Moz employment, and law school applications are slowly but surely being put together. And depending on the day I feel both completely ready to head back to the States and so beyond unprepared. So here's to the next two and a half months in Moz (and to me having a life plan for once I get back!)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

She took a midnight train (that actually had a specific destination)

After spending some time in Ilha I headed back to Nampula so that I could buy my train ticket and head towards Cuamba. I wanted a second class ticket (not nearly as chique as it sounds - third class is basically a more horrible version of a chapa - people, chickens, goats, pigs and massive quantities of food all stuffed into an unimaginably tiny space. Whereas in second class you actually have your own seat, an exciting rarity in Moz travel) so I arrived at the train station at 1 pm so that I would be ready for the ticket sales to open at 2 pm. Of course, nothing in Moz ever goes as it should - a security guard "took me under her wing" and wouldn't let me get into the line to buy tickets. I assumed this meant that she would slip around back and get me a ticket once the gate opened . . . but no. When they started selling tickets my new bffl security guard grabbed my hand and pulled me to the front of the line. SO AWKWARD. I had been within the first two people at the station, so most people didn't gripe too much about the fact that I had just cut everyone. But it was just annoying and so awkward - I was completely okay with standing in line for an hour and tried to explain that to the guard, but she just didn't listen/maybe thought she was doing me a favor? Anyways, later I ended up meeting two Swiss girls both of whom bought second class tickets at around 3:30 pm meaning that everyone I had cut had ended up with the ticket they wanted as well. Feeling slightly less guilty about the whole thing.
Back at the backpackers' I met some girls who were also going to be traveling the train the next day. This was WONDERFUL because the train was the part I was looking forward to traveling with company and since my travel buddies hadn't been able to make it, I was a bit bummed out. We got to the train station at around 4:30 am, probably unnecessarily since in second class you have an assigned compartment and the train was to leave at 6:00 am. The train is now my favorite kind of travel in Moz - it actually left ontime (!!) and the compartments were so large - there were only six people in each compartment and no one even tried to cram themselves in with us. The landscape was beautiful, travel from Nampula to Cuamba is pretty much only by train, the roads are completely unpaved and in some places don't even exist so we didn't see any cars, just village after village. At each stop it seems as though everyone living in that area rushes to the train holding up anything and everything that they think the passengers would want to buy. Did you forget your toothbrush? Need a lifetime supply of tangerines? Carrots? Fried treats? And in case you can't get enough food from the side of the rails, there is also a dining car on the train. I know. Crazy. A dining car. On a train in Mozambique. They only serve the typical Mozambican fare - 1/4 chicken, rice, french fries, and salad, but it was still wonderful. Plus the landscape in northern Mozambique is completely different than southern Mozambique so everything seemed a bit more interesting (photos to come . . . still haven't found a camera cord that I can use). Basically the train was awesome and I would highly recommend it for your next Mozambican adventure :)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Takin' everythin' in my stride

On June 7th I packed up my LSAT books and headed down to Joburg to take the LSAT with three other Moz PCVs. The LSAT went decently (and now on to law school applications), but the important part is that Joburg is AWESOME. Most people talk about the crime, etc, but for pcvs it was like a winter wonderland (literally since it was 4 degrees Celsius and I was freezing). There was a McDonald's (quarter pounder with cheese and oreo mcflurries, don't judge), a movie theater (The Great Gatsby in 3D), froyo, and other amazing things that cannot be found in Moz. Despite the fact that Bank of America decided to cancel both my cards (BoA for the win), Joburg definitely made up for the whole I-have-to-take-the-lsat thing. I headed back up to site and had a little over a day to prepare for my next great adventure - which according to usual moz fashion, did not go quite as planned.

I headed to Beira on the 17th on an awkward boleia and stayed the night in preparation for my flight the next morning which was just a little too earlier to make same day travel to Beira possible. Of course then my flight ended up being delayed for 4 hours . . . so I definitely could have made it to Beira that same day. Oh well, a great familiarity with the tiny Beira airport could end up being useful one day (I suppose). My flight was straight to Nampula, and I stayed the night there before boleia-ing out to Pemba. Which brings me to the awesome summary of my travel in the North - I went from Nampula to Pemba, Pemba to Ilha and Ilha to Nampula and spent under 10 dollars on travel across over 650 miles of road. Plus the rides I got were infinitely safer and more interesting than chapas or buses. Win.

Anyways, I made it to Pemba and stayed with some fellow PCVs who teach at a teacher training institute. I read, made awesome food (a chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting made a reappearance), and sat on the beach for awhile. Of course this was also the part of the trip where I tried to re-piece together my original travel plans. The Moz opposition political party had created a roadblock across the Rio Save and there had been a couple of violent incidences in the area . . . meaning that my two original travel buddies, who were planning to travel up to Pemba from Maputo on the day the roadblock was implemented, couldn't travel anymore. So I was a sozinha traveler. Not the end of the world, but definitely the quieter route.

After Pemba, I a) remembered that I had a camera and should probably take pictures and b) headed to Ilha de Mocambique. Ilha is a pretty amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site and I took a ton of pictures (some of which will hopefully make an appearance on this blog tomorrow if I'm able to find a camera cord). You can read more about Ilha and its history here: The first day I more or less roamed the island, took lots of pictures (I had visited Ilha before, but for some unknown reason had failed to take pictures) and visited the old fort (built in the 16th century by the Portuguese). On my second day on Ilha, I went with some other people from my hostel out to the Island of Goa and across the channel to a peninsula. The water was wayyy to cold for my moz climate adjusted self (I have become such a temperature wimp it's embarrassing - I'm from the PNW and grew up playing in the Pacific/Strait for heaven's sake!), but the trip on the dhow was beautiful and it was a nice way to spend the day before starting another long stretch of travel.

Next post . . . Ilha to Nampula, Nampula to Cuamba (and hopefully photos!)

Monday, July 1, 2013

So close, so close and yet so far . . .

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I left site (A) on the 17th in order to get to Beira (B) for my flight from Beira to Nampula (F) on the 18th. I found a cheap flight earlier in May and I was SO excited not to have to repeat the epic bus journey of 2012. As indicated by the somewhat depressing song lyrics, the trip didn't quite go as planned. Basically, when I arrived in Beira I found out that the opposition party in Mozambique had attacked a place outside of Beira, I hadn't seen anything out of the ordinary and was fine - luckily I was not traveling overland, so thought that I had nothing else to worry about . . . Until I got to Nampula and found out that as of the 20th the opposition party would be blocking the road that goes across the EN1 - basically the only connection between southern Mozambique and the northern portion of the county. Which also happens to be the only way I can get back to site. Fun stuff right there.
In summary, the rest of my trip went decently well and I'm slightly obsessed with the train between Nampula (F) and Cuamba (G). I was kind of hoping that this hullabaloo would be over by the time I needed to get back to site - but no such luck in that department. So I'm stuck. In Chimoio. Which at least is a bigger city, but I really really really just want to be home. Not even home in the US, but home in Inhassoro, sleeping on my plywood bed (I no longer use a mattress because it basically folded in half everytime I laid down and screwed up my back. I'm obviously the coolest person you know) and eating massive amounts of eggplant from the school's garden. But I'm on school break until the 22nd of July, so I'm not missing classes like many of the other PCV evacuees. And PC is being very proactive about evacuating people and making sure we're all safe.
So, I'm in Chimoio for the foreseeable future. Which means that I'll be uploading some awesome blogs all about my trip. And if I can find a cable/card reader for my camera, there might even be photos involved.
Think positive, peaceful thoughts for me <3