Tuesday, December 20, 2011

First Impressions

The first couple of days at site were so hot and humid. Luckily I’m living about 5 minutes from the ocean, so there was a tad bit of a breeze. But I was still pretty much miserable (living in Sequim this summer with its highs of all of 70 degrees did not really help with my acclimation). However, little by little, I’m moving in and was able to spend the entire day yesterday cleaning and organizing my new little house (the weather finally cooled down a bit). I now have an electric stove (basically 2 hot plates stuck together) and combined with my electric teakettle, life is pretty good. I’ve even gotten over the fact that I will be killing 3-4 cockroaches a day – and my aim with the nasty bug spray has drastically improved (however, I am especially happy when I wake up in the morning and the cockroaches have flipped themselves over on accident, it’s the little things).

I’m living on the mission compound about a 5-10 minute walk from the school where I’ll be teaching. In my town there is a market of vendors as well as a more “supermarket”-y store which has some of the essentials that cannot be purchased at the actual market (like oatmeal, so happy to have real breakfast foods again). There are a number of hotels/lodges in my town and although it’s definitely not the most touristy town in the area, right now is the peak of tourist season (most of Moz’s tourists are from South Africa or other neighboring countries), so there are a number of tourists throughout town. This also means that every once-in-a-while, when neither my neighbor PCV or I feel like cooking, we can find a place to eat (the resort affiliated with my school has pizza with sauce and real cheese . . . so delicious). I am living on the same compound with, but about 3 doors away from another volunteer from my training group, Zach, who will be teaching English and computers at the tech school. 

More about my school. For the next two years I’ll be teaching chemistry at Estrella de Mar, a commercial and industrial technical school that goes from eighth to tenth grade. Rumor currently has it that chemistry is only offered to eighth graders, so there is a possibility that I’ll only be teaching one grade. In Mozambique, students (or at least those in towns/able to move to town during the school year) can attend either technical schools or secondary schools. Estrella de Mar (like many other Moz secondary and tech schools) has a dormitory for students who live outside of town to stay in. Tech schools tend to have smaller class sizes and are focused on providing students with practical skills for a job after graduation. Due to Inhassoro’s location, this school’s curriculum is centered on the tourism industry. The school is run by the Church (I think?) and is partnered with an Italian NGO (maybe two) that support a recently opened resort in Inhassoro. The hope is that the students will move from the school to jobs as resort employees. In order for the students to gain more practical experience, the other PCV at my site (Zach) and I might be working with a couple of other teachers to organize after school English groups that would emphasize the accumulation of conversation skills necessary for work in the tourism industry.  

However, school is on their summer/holiday break right now . . . and it sounds like it doesn’t start again until the beginning of February. So I have a lot of time to finish getting organized and brush up on my chemistry skills!! 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Beginning of Life in Inhassoro

Moved into my new house on Monday and am living in the mission compound about a 5 minute walk away from the ocean. My house is only one bedroom and a bathroom, but there is running water (cold) and electricity, so my life is feeling pretty swanky. The weather has been miserably humid and I wake up every morning at about 4 am to the sound of mangoes falling on my tin roof. It's mango season right now, and although I know I'm going to be sick of them by the end of the season, right now I am obsessed. Mangoes and oatmeal is quite possibly the best breakfast food ever (although I'm in Vilankulos right now and had a waffle with syrup . . . I miss real breakfast food a lot).

Visited the school where I will be working (it's a technical school focused on preparing students to work in the tourist industry) and it sound like I definitely will be teaching chemistry. So I've started studying the materials left behind by the other volunteers (both of whom also taught chemistry). Teaching chemistry is going to be a major challenge, but should result in the significant improvement of my Portuguese.

Thus far my town seems to have just about everything I need . . . except the internet. I'm contemplating purchasing a modem, but for now I just have email and a bit of facebook on my cell phone. Please keep/start emailing me updates . . . school doesn't start until the end of January, so I am looking for things (besides chem studying) to fill my time! More updates later!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Confirmation Mass. Finally the Last Week in Namaacha.

I went to the Catholic Church in Namaacha with my host family during the first two weekends of homestay. But, for a variety of reasons including the fact that mass is usually two to three hours long and Sundays are my only free day all week, I have been successfully avoiding mass since the third week. Maybe not the best choice for my soul, but rather necessary for my sanity.

However, this weekend was my host cousin (I think?)’s confirmation, and I told her that I would attend. My mae informed me that we would be leaving the house at 8 am. Which meant I could sleep in, because last weekend when I did my laundry, my host aunt woke me up at 4:30. Before the sun was up. Anyways, I was shocked yesterday when, at 7:45, my mae was ready to go. We never ever leave or get anywhere early (which has been an ongoing struggle for my obsession with being awkwardly early to everything). So my mae and I set off for church, arriving at about 8:30. Which turned out to be a problem because mass started at 8. And since it was confirmation, the church (which is probably twice the size of St. Joseph’s) was completely packed. My mae sent me upstairs (which I later found out is the area for the old people and babies) where I stood. Through a 99-person confirmation and the resulting four hour mass.

Luckily, my electrolyte imbalance and dehydration that had resulted from my case of “Pre-colonial-southern-African-leader’s Revenge” (similar to Montezuma’s Revenge) had finally resolved itself. Otherwise I probably would have passed out. I stood next to this really nice nun (which gives me hope for the next two years of living on a Catholic mission), who shared her program with me.

In Mozambique, right after the collection, during the portion of mass when the gifts are being carried to the altar, they have a number of people carry items of food to the altar as well. I imagine that this food is being donated by the congregation, but I don’t actually know. Anyways, in the States this procession is usually all of four people and during the two masses I went to earlier in Moz, it was about 10 people. However, because the Bishop was there and it was confirmation, the procession yesterday was about 30-40 people. I zoned out a bit during this part, but the nun elbowed me and said “that goat looks fresh.” At first I thought that my Portuguese skills (or lack thereof) had just massively misinterpreted what she had said, so I asked her to repeat. Turns out my Portuguese was correct, and at the end of the procession, two men were carrying (a fairly large) live goat up to the altar. Where they presented it to the Bishop and then quickly carried it back outside.

After mass, I went to study for my final language test. And split close to a gallon of neapolitan ice cream with three other people. It was amazing.

I’m in Namaacha until the morning of December 8th and then will be heading to Maputo for swearing-in at the US Ambassador’s residence. After that, I will be at a supervisor’s conference until Monday when I finally move into my new house. I am so beyond ready to be living by myself (I have a site-mate who will be living about five houses away). Then it’s on to a month of intense chemistry cramming so that I can start teaching chemistry (in Portuguese) in the middle of January. I’m a little/a lot freaked out about teaching chem, but it’ll work out in the end (and will be great for my Portuguese skills). Prayers for the rapid accumulation of chemistry knowledge would be appreciated. I hope that everyone is enjoying the holiday season (and that finals are going well)! Miss you all!

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Rain.

The rain in Namaacha is insane. Yes, I realize that this is a lame attempt at rhyming, but it’s actually true. This whole tin roof + crazy thunder/lightning/rain storm thing means that sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and feel like I am in the middle of the Wizard of Oz (or a discotecha, depending on the amount and frequency of lightning) and that either the entire house is going to be uprooted and fly away or we’re going to lose the roof. Namaacha is in the mountains, which means it’s substantially cooler than some other places in Mozambique, but the weather patterns are crazy and impossible to predict. The temperature quite literally changes 30 degrees in the span of something like three hours.

Take today for example. I woke up at around 5 and it was fairly cloudy. Strongly agreed with my decision not to wear a cardigan about 3 hours later when it was about 95 degrees . . . with probably 80% humidity. Gross. Anyways, went back to the house for lunch, headed off for more tech sessions. By four pm the sky was overcast, a major thunderstorm had begun and it was probably only 75 degrees. Some days I just wish for some consistency, as there are nights when the temp is around 50 and nights when it’s more like 80. For a week at the end of October I was wearing wool socks, flannel pants, and a sweatshirt to sleep. In Sub-Saharan Africa. During the summer.

Anyways, back to the rain. At first I thought it was kind of similar to camping. You know, the sound rain makes when it hits your tent at night. And then I realized that despite the fact it may only be a heavy mist, any type of raindrop hitting the tin roof sounds like hurricane. For the first couple of rainstorms I would put on my galoshes, rain jacket, and grab my umbrella, only to get outside and realize this was basically a heavy fog. Don’t get me wrong, the rain here can get worse than New Haven, but at that point I just completely lose the ability to hear anything. Also, the matope (mud) is crazy. It clumps together on your shoes and manages to make you about 4 inches taller by then end of the day.

But in early/mid December I’m moving to Inhassoro, Inhambane. Where I will live about a 5-minute walk away from the Indian Ocean. I’ll be teaching at a tech school (smaller classes). And right now they say I’ll be teaching Chemistry and English. Which could be pretty interesting. I’ll be living on/right next to a Catholic mission (unclear which). More details coming later (aka: as I find out), but you should definitely come visit.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Some brief travels around Mozambique . . .

November 12, 2011

I just returned from a site visit and am very grateful that PC had the funding to send all 51 of us out to various sites around the country. While I did not visit my official site (I find that out on Wednesday), I really enjoyed getting the chance to visit a PC Volunteer. I was lucky enough to be able to go North to Nampula province by airplane and visited two sites – Ilha de Mocambique and Nacaroa.

The Ilha was gorgeous as it used to be the Portuguese capital of colonial Mozambique. While many of the buildings have fallen into disrepair, the entire Ilha is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the government is slowly working to restore it. This was a very interesting site because it is also a tourist destination – which means (like every other PC site in Mozambique) it has its positives and negatives.

I spent most of my time in Nacaroa, which was a small town about two hours outside of Nampula City. Nacaroa is one of the few PC-Moz sites that does not have electricity, most seem to have electricity for at least a couple of hours a day. Whether or not this electricity is reliable is a completely different story . . . However, I survived the 4 days without energy and, although I would prefer a site with energy, now know that I could go without (thank the lord that my kindle battery lasts forever). While the art of carvao (charcoal) cooking will take a while to perfect, at least I have some practice now. The volunteer I stayed with was very helpful and even shared some Kraft Mac & Cheese (using a cheese packet sent from home) which was amazing.

After having some form of control over my own life for the past week, moving back into my homestay was a bit difficult. While the family is great, I am really looking forward to having my own house, etc. As of Wednesday I’ll have an idea of where I’ll be living, so trip planning (for multitudes that plan on visiting Moz in the coming years) can start then!

The Portuguese is still coming along slowly but surely. I did okay on my week 5 language test, so I get to teach and watch others teach at the PC model school. I need the teaching practice, so I am very excited/nervous.

Also, I received my first card in the mail a week or so ago, as far as I can tell cards/letters take about 2 weeks and packages about a month.    

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Also, packages.

Just so you know, packages get to Mozambique without as much trouble if you list religious items in the customs form and value them for less than 5 dollars. Draw all sorts of religious symbols etc. Theoretically this should help. Apparently shipping time is anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks (but the post office says 6-10 days . . . we shall see).

Training Continues . . .

19 days down. Only 51 left until the end of training . . .

I definitely underestimated the change required to live with a family for 70 days (PC training in Namaacha is host-family based). Sometimes I love talking with my host family, they are super nice and usually at least attempt to laugh at my lame/failed Portuguese jokes. Even though they are great people, my existence in their household requires a big change in their routines and a complete reassessment of my own. Needless to say, it has been a challenge for both parties and has required a bit of compromise.

Training is fairly all consuming, so my blog fails to be very entertaining. But here are the “larger” developments in my life since the last post:

1.     After surviving another bilingual mass, I have begun to long for the days before Vatican II.
2.     While the chicken noises no longer bother me, I now notice things that I couldn’t hear before. Like the Islamic call to prayer that wakes me up at around 4 am every morning.
3.     I’ve decided that I’m going to be a cooking vegetarian while in Mozambique (aka: if someone else cooks/kills the meat, I might eat it, but I won’t be preparing any meat). Basically, my first chicken killing was needlessly prolonged due to my inability to use a dull knife, so I’m done with the whole Mozambican chicken/meat thing.
4.     Some of my fellow trainees and I have developed an addiction to popsicles, which can be purchased for the low price of 5 mets (~30 mets = 1 dollar). They seem to be more milk based than usual, but are absolutely delicious.
5.     We have also begun to frequent a German bakery that opened about 3 months ago. It’s apparently run by a non-profit that opens bakeries in developing countries as a way of creating jobs (according to the man we spoke to, they have bakeries in 10 countries). Basically their cookies are amazing. And today I bought a hot cross bun-esque confection that was delicious. This addiction (combined with the popsicles) could become a problem.

Overall, still working on the adjustment thing and hoping that Portuguese wins the ongoing war between Spanish and Portuguese that is currently being waged in my brain. My language professor has informed me that Portugal has never lost a war against Spain (a fact I cannot verify due to my continued lack of internet access), so I’m hoping this trend continues.

Also, I have a cell phone now!! If you’d like my phone number (I feel a little strange sending it out to the worldwide web), please email me.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


As you may know, food is very important to me . . . and over the past couple of years I’ve become a bit particular about what I eat. While I definitely have not been eating the spinach salads (with gorgonzola, pears, and candied walnuts) that I would like to eat, the food here hasn’t been that bad. That being said, I really do not like xima (a cornmeal based porridge/dough thing, which is way different than the stuff we ate in Zambia). My family seems to think that xima is a treat for me, when I would really just rather eat rice. Every time I eat it I ration my juice so that I can have a sip after every bite. I haven’t gotten far enough in either my bravery or language skills to convey this message without hurting anyone’s feelings.

We eat a ton of carbs here (and I only eat half of what even the 1 year old eats). Lots of rice, xima, noodles, bread, and potatoes. My family knows that I like fruit (I now get juice at least 2 times a day and eat 2-3 apples/bananas a day), but doesn’t quite understand that I would like more than carrot shavings in my pasta. The carrot shavings have grown substantially since I said I liked them, but are still too small for my liking.

However, today was a wonderful day because I got peanut butter with breakfast. Not having peanut butter was one of my big concerns about life in Africa (besides the whole health and language thing). I hadn’t quite gotten to the point of asking for it (PC gives the families a fair amount to feed the volunteers, but I’m still not sure of how expensive certain things are) and my family had not offered peanut butter yet. Minha mae brought back loaves of bread from Swaziland and I have been eating bread with butter and jam for breakfast, but still hadn’t seen peanut butter. Today, minha mae brought out the peanut butter and I had a pb&j for breakfast and a peanut butter and banana sandwich for lunch (along with my pasta). It was basically heaven.

So, now that I no longer need a steady supply of peanut butter care packages, I’d love to get letters  :)  


I have been with my host family since Saturday and, while living in someone else’s house is very stressful, I am VERY happy with my living situation. As I haven’t had internet for awhile, I decided to organize my post by significant events, trying to convey what training has been like so far.

1.     I was supposed to be a boy. Apparently, Allison (or the closest name to Allison) is a boy’s name in Mozambique. On my third day here, minha tia Graca informed me that when Peace Corps had given them my name, the entire family thought they would be hosting a boy. Luckily (if I understood correctly), they preferred a girl. So I was a happy surprise.
2.     My family is very disappointed with my eating habits. Not putting sugar or milk in my tea results in a debate every single morning. And despite the fact that we have discussed this quite a bit by now, I think they are hoping that one day I’ll tell them it was all a joke. They are also concerned that I’m not eating enough. Luckily, they aren’t one of the families that dishes up your food for you, so I don’t feel as though I have to force myself to eat everything on my plate. But they comment on how “skinny” I am and how, if I would just eat more, I could be “gorda (fat)” (Culture note: being called gorda is actually a complement, I haven’t decided if being called skinny is an insult). The food here isn’t actually too bad, but they don’t eat large amounts of vegetables and everything is very starch heavy. I am trying to convince my family that I really do like vegetables and that I definitely don’t want them soaked in oil or mayonnaise (which is how they eat them). My big success is they now understand I like apples more than oranges (haven’t figured out how to say I can’t eat too much citrus), but I am a little concerned that I’ll be sick of apples after eating at least 2 a day for 10 weeks. They have told me that I will be preparing dinner alone for the entire family on Sunday . . . I informed them that we all might go to bed hungry. 
3.     One of the phrases that Peace Corps suggests learning is “sozinha” or alone. I practiced this word every day and night because I was concerned (as this has happened to other volunteers) that my family would think I needed help with everything. Some volunteers have ended up being bathed by their host mother for up to a week because they don’t know how to say they can do it alone. Of course, I ended up with a family whose favorite word is “sozinha.” On my second day in my host family they decided it was time for me to kill a chicken “sozinha.” Wasn’t the most successful effort (I needed a lot of help) . . . While the knife looked sharp, it most definitely was not. I did manage to pluck the chicken, but someone else took out the insides. Next time, I told them that I need an axe.
4.     Mozambican familial relationships are complicated. Until yesterday, I really didn’t even know how the people who live in my house were related (and was still a bit unsure of a couple of their names were). So, I asked my host sister to write down everyone’s names for me, saying that I needed to know how to spell them. From what I understand, I am living in Alcinda’s house (minha mae). Her sister Graca (33) lives here too with her 3 kids – Carolina (15), Nelia (7), and Andre (1). Alcinda’s children are Ginacilda (20), Jucelino (8), and Armando (6). Peace Corps requires that I have my own room, so (as far as I know) everyone besides Alcinda sleeps in one room (3 bedrooms total). Minha mae keeps a super clean house, so unlike some of the other volunteers, I haven’t seen a rat or a cockroach (but did see a HUGE spider). I need to learn her housekeeping secrets before I leave.
5.     My Spanish is somewhat helpful for sentence structures, but absolutely no help with pronunciation. I can understand so much more than I can say, a situation that will get increasingly awkward as I start understanding more of what my family says without being able to convey that I know exactly what they are saying (especially because I have a feeling that they talk about me sometimes). Luckily they can just switch to Xangana (sp?) an indigenous language that is also spoken in Namaacha. My family is super Catholic so we went to church on Sunday (for 3 hours) and they did all of the readings in both Portuguese and Xangana. I’m hoping that one day I’ll wake up and Portuguese (and the nasally pronunciations) will make more sense. Sadly this hasn’t happened yet. I have to pass as an intermediate-high on my language test during week five in order to teach at the model school, so I’ll be working my butt off to get there.
Other than not being able to understand very much, life is fairly normal. I take two bucket baths a day (not really needed, but I’m worried my family will think I’m dirty if I don’t). I have an indoor bathroom with a toilet that you dump water in to “flush”. It’s fairly cold in Namaacha right now, so I am glad the toilet is inside and that I brought so many jackets. Miss you all!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

First day in Mozambique

I left the States on Wednesday morning and am now in Mozambique . . . only over 16 hours of flight time later. The flight wasn't nearly is bad as I expected (but British Airways was still much better). However, when I got onto my second flight (from Johannesburg to Maputo) they made me check my backpacking backpack at the last minute . . . which was extremely stressful as I had a lot of electronics in my bag (the most important thing being my external hard drive). Luckily, I had brought a couple of extra locks and was able to take a zip tie from the guy next to me (Mom & Dad - would love zip ties in my first care package). I made it through to Maputo without losing anything in my bag, but several members of our group had some of their stuff stolen after having to check second carry-ons at the last minute :(

We all made it to Maputo and to the hotel (where the food is amazing . . . and probably represents my last chance to eat chocolate for a little while). Today was fairly relaxed, we all got the necessary shots and tried to get ready to move in with our host families on Saturday. 

Anyways, we don't have very regular access to the internet while in training, so this blog-every-other-day-thing probably won't be happening. Which will hopefully make my blog posts a bit more interesting when they do appear :)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Traveling failures. And other life events.

I usually pride myself on being good at airports, packing, traveling, etc. I've flown enough from New Haven to Seattle that there is really no longer any excuse for not understanding the 3oz rule or failing to have your id out when going through security. Sadly, the process of getting on my flight from Seattle to Philadelphia left me looking like someone (in my imagination, this person is wearing a fanny pack) who hadn't stepped foot into an airport since 9/11. First off, my bags were overweight. Then I accidentally checked my laptop. I ended up entering the security line 15 minutes before my flight boarded, a situation that is not ideal for someone who is chronically 20 minutes early. Basically, by the time I made it through security I was frantic, concerned that my laptop had already been damaged, and just a tad bit disheveled. Of course, the two other Peace Corps trainees on my flight took note of my frenzied arrival and now probably think of me as the crazy bag lady.

However, since my arrival in Philadelphia, life has gone much better. Turns out, most everyone else overpacked as well and there are only a few who spent their summers studying Portuguese. I think I even managed to reorganize my bags so they might be around the theoretical 40 pound limit. Now I'm off to the airport in an hour . . . getting psyched for my 15 hour 20 minute flight (false).

I should have internet for my first couple days in Mozambique, but starting Saturday it looks like I'm moving off the grid. In the meantime, you should all write me letters <3

If you haven't already (who knew Bob Dylan sang about Mozambique?) you should listen to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYywEVzyVLI