Monday, July 13, 2009

This is the luxury suite in Nhamatema, where Lindsay, the goats, the dogs, whatever animals, and I slept.

Sick... though not quite as nicely rhymed as the shel silverstein poem

The events to be described in this blog have long passed, and I’m in tip-top shape, so there’s no need to fret…
It must be every parent’s fear when they send a son or daughter off to Peace Corps (or, with the new-age Peace Corps, a child’s fear when they send their mom or dad off to Peace Corps) that the volunteer will get sick during their service. Especially in Africa, with quite a spectrum of different illnesses.
In Mozambique, malaria is a huge problem, especially during rainy season. About a month ago, I went to the beach with a group of volunteers. The first night, I went to sleep pretty early, not feeling too great. I woke up the next morning feeling like doo-doo, with bad, shaking chills. I spent the morning sleeping in the sun on the beach, so I really must say that the beach was quite a nice place to be sick.
From there, I had no energy, no appetite, and just wanted to sleep. I couldn’t walk straight, and the few times I went to use the bathroom, I almost passed out getting there. I woke up in the middle of the night, and my pants were wet. I cringed in embarrassment, thinking I had, gasp, peed myself but then felt a little relieved when I realized that the rest of my clothes were also wet—I had just sweat through them all!
The next day, we left the beach to head back to our respective sites. That doesn’t mean a comfortable ride in an SUV. That means almost 2 hours on a bumpy dirt road in the back of a truck, a trip to the city (Beira) and plenty of waiting around while the guy who agreed to take us back to Chimoio visited his family, and a 3 hour ride on a delightfully-pot holed road between Beira and Chimoio… Misery.
I stayed in Chimoio that night because I didn’t think I could handle the 3-ish hour trip back to Catandica. I took an (expired) malaria test that night, which came back negative. The next morning, however, I was feeling worse yet. When I woke up from some crazy dreams, I thought I was being smushed by my blanket—it felt like it weighed a ton. I decided to get another malaria test. I could barely walk, but since there were only expired malaria tests in the house, I had to go to the hospital. Thank goodness another volunteer took me there. Though it’s normally only a 2 minute walk, I wouldn’t have made it alone.
While waiting for my test in the crowded (outdoor) waiting “room,” I noticed a lot of people staring at me. I doubt they’d ever seen a muzungo (white person) that sick before. Right before I got called in, a stretcher/ gurney was wheeled down a path with a person who looked to be knocking at death’s door on it. There was a nurse at one end and someone I’m guessing to be a relative at the other end, steering. In entering the building, they jostled the gurney around and ran it into a wall several times.
Of course, I tested positive for malaria. I hadn’t been taking my prophylaxis regularly because of its side effects (really bad stomach cramps), so I wasn’t surprised. My house in Catandica is full of mosquitoes, and I had slept outside without a mosquito net when we visited Nhamatema (the placed I talked about in my last post).
After getting diagnosed and getting some medicines, I started, bit-by-bit, to get better. I could drink some juice and occasionally could take a small bit of banana. I made up my mind to start getting better, which would require eating, so I went straight for a pizza. That’s when I knew with certainty that I was on the road to recovery.
Altogether, I was really sick for about a week and a half, both at the beach and in Chimoio. Luckily, I had a lot of folks there to help take care of me, for which I’m incredibly thankful.
I made up my mind to never go back to the hospital again if I could help it. Even though I was completely out of it, it was still a horrific thing to see. And that’s in the city. I can’t imagine how it would have been in the middle of the bush. The stomachaches caused by my prophylaxis are still very unpleasant, but I’ve been sucking it up because I don’t want to ever get malaria again.
I just plain don’t want to get sick in Africa again. If I’m going to be stuck in bed, at least let it be in a comfortable place with good plumbing, good doctors nearby, and maybe a TV.

Friday, June 19, 2009

This’ll be quite a long ‘un. Unfortunately, the internet has been incredibly uncooperative in the past few months, so I haven’t been able to really put up any pictures or post blogs.

Southern African journey:

Over my April holidays, I took quite a fly-by tour of Southern Africa. Here are some of the highlights:

Bus trip from Chimoio to Maputo: We left at 3:30 am from Chimoio, 5 adults sitting in the space for 4 and arrived around 10 pm. I defined the term “numb bum” on that trip.

Pretoria, South Africa: We stayed a night in Pretoria to buy some supplies for the road. I went to a legitimate Chinese food restaurant and a grocery store—they even had bagels! It was pretty surreal to compare Pretoria to any city in Mozambique.

South Africa- Botswana: There were some pretty funny street signs. One warned that you shouldn’t feed baboons. Others were for impala and warthog crossings. Later, on the road between Namibia and Zambia, there were elephant crossing signs too.

Botswana: We stayed a night in Gaborone, the capitol of Botswana. It was a peaceful, small city. While exploring Gaborone, we stumbled upon both a museum AND a visitor information center. In Botswana, we were on the Trans-Kalahari Highway the whole time, which is a 2-lane road, often flanked by livestock (LOTS of cows!), baboons, a couple ostriches, and nothing else. We almost ran out of gas in the middle of NOWHERE, so we pulled into a little town and got gas at a random house that had a 10 or 15 liter container of petrol, just enough to get us to a town with a real gas station. Our filling station attendants ranged in age from 3 to probably 75, as a number of family members came to check us out. We visited a place called Ghanzi and watched some women making jewelry out of ostrich shells, which are super thick and strong!

Namibia: On our first night, we stayed in Gobabis, the meat capitol of Namibia. There were sausage and other meat-filled rolls throughout all of Namibia, thanks to it having been a former German colony, so being the meat capitol is quite a feat.

In Swakopmund (near Walvis Bay… not sure which—if either—will come up on a map), we saw some of the biggest dunes in the world. I went 4-wheeling one days and sandboarding the next. I can’t say that I’m an expert at sandboarding—it’s quite a strenuous hike up the dune. I’d definitely like to try it again some day. One of my favorite things from that trip was coming up over one of the dunes on a 4-wheeler to see the sun setting over the Atlantic Ocean.

We stayed one night in Windhoek, which doesn’t seem like a stereotypical African city at all. Lots of shopping malls, grocery stores, restaurants, etc. In general, I was pretty surprised on my trip by how much more civilized the cities in South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia were than the cities in Mozambique. The public restrooms are definitely evidence of this. They all had toilet paper and toilet seats, and I’m pretty sure they’d beat most American public toilets in the area of cleanliness.

Namibia-Zambia: We took a double-decker bus from Windhoek to Livingstone, Zambia, passing by several elephant crossing signs. Livingstone, Zambia, is home to one side of Victoria Falls (with the other half falling in Zimbabwe). The name in dialect for the Falls is Mosi-oa-Tunya, “the Smoke that Thunders,” and they definitely thundered. The Falls were full of water because of the extremely rainy rainy season. Walking on some of the paths to see the waterfalls was like walking through a giant shower. Victoria Falls is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Now I only have six more to go!

Back to Botswana: We took a day trip back into Botswana to Chobe Park to do a day safari. On the way to the border, we saw three giraffes on the side of the road. To cross the border, we took a ferry across the Zambezi River. On the other side were both Zimbabwe and Botswana. That was also the point at which the Chobe River met the Zambezi, which forms the border of Namibia. That area was like the 4 corners in the US.

In Chobe Park, we did both land and water safaris and saw a ton of animals: warthogs, dung beetles, lots of pretty birds, impala, crocodiles, hippopotami, buffalo, giraffes, a leopard, elephants and elephants and elephants. We were incredibly lucky to see a leopard, since they’re super-rare. I got a great picture of it, which I will hopefully be able to get up on the internet soon.

Visit to Nhamatema AKA real Mozambique:

Lindsay and I went to visit the family of our student Hélio. The family’s last name: Mibeque. Pronunciation: “my back.” His name is Hélio Pita Mibeque (Elio Peter My Back). They live in a small locale called Nhamatema, on the road between Catandica and Chimoio. There’s really not too much to see there: some small stores, a school, and a lot of farmland.

That day, we played with some of the kids in the family. For many of them, we were their first muzungos (white people), and, surprisingly, none of them cried. We helped the women de-kernel corn to make xima, the corn flour porridge. I chopped firewood, although I might have had a bit of help from a slightly more able-bodied Mozambican man.

We visited the compound where his family lives—about 27 people, in total. There are about 15 different structures in the compound, ranging from small brick houses to mud huts with straw roofs to various animal enclosures. The main gathering area is a large hut, about 12 feet tall, with open sides. At night, they light a fire in the center for both light and warmth in the winter. Elevated in the middle is a pigeon coop, where the pigeons sleep at night.

Guess who else slept there that night... That’s right, I slept right in there with the dogs and goat and whichever other animals were looking for a warm place to sleep. I can’t say it was a pleasant night’s sleep, but I did manage to get a few hours before the turkeys and roosters started crowing at about 4 am.

Nhamatema is much more traditional than Catandica in many respects. To show respect, people clap cupped hands together and do a series of small bows. Women and children are in lower societal positions than men are. (Lindsay and were treated very well there. I guess American is a gender in and of itself.) The women stay at home during the day with the children, cleaning the compound and preparing meals. Men go out to the fields or work in the little family stores. In this family, 3 of the older sons each have their own store—which all sell the exact same things. (Entrepreneurship is not a skill frequently stumbled upon in rural Mozambique, since there were about 15 more of those little stores, in addition to those of the brothers.) One of the brothers, who already has a number of children, said that he wanted many more so that they could work on the family farm, and I am still thanking my lucky stars that he’s not my father.

At mealtime, the father and elder sons eat together, sitting at a table. The women sit around in a circle on the floor and eat from community bowls of xima and whatever sauce they have prepared for it. The children sit either on the mothers’ laps or on the fringes of the circles.

At the end of our visit, they gave us a live turkey to bring back home (which is currently awaiting an early Thanksgiving dinner in my freezer, thanks to some handy knife work by Hélio). I couldn’t believe I was accepting a turkey from a family of 27, many of whom are young children with the bellies of malnutrition, but it would have been quite offensive not to take it.

On our walk back from the Mibeque compound to the road, we had to cross over a small stream where women often bathe. Men must call out in dialect to let the women know that a man wants to cross and ask for permission. When the women are decent, they call back out to the man to tell him that he may pass.

And since I’ve already poked a bit of fun at the name Mibeque, I might as well continue weaving my handbasket. Some other funny names I’ve come across this year include:

Sande (sandwich in Portuguese), Sozinho (alone), Perato (pirate), Guivimo (Give more), Mugabe and Chissano (twin brothers named after the once-great leaders of Zimbabwe and Mozambique), Viola, Alone, Fama (fame), Helton de Asses, Lavumo (Love more), Arroz (rice), Zangado (angry), Alfandega (customs officer), Flavio, Farai (Shona for happiness). I think that’s all I have as far as students go.

Friday, March 6, 2009

February and early March

Alfredo and the Feticeiro:

In African culture, many people rely on traditional healers in lieu of or in addition to doctors, nurses, and other healthcare-givers. It is no exception in Catandica. Here, we have a variety: Curandeiros are the traditional healers, while feticeiros are more of the “witch doctor” types. In addition to that, there are also a number of people in the market who sell roots, herbs, and random objects used to bring luck, get rid of headaches or illnesses, etc.

Curandeiros are known to the village, and many people consult them on important matters, in addition to medical ones. When Lindsay’s phone was stolen while we were walking down the street, students urged her to go see a curandeiro. Many children have necklaces or waist beads given to them by the curandeiro- probably for good growth and safety. One of our neighbors is a curandeiro, and his children, the goat-herding boys, are some of our best friends here. None of them has been to a doctor. When they get sick, their father will perform a ceremony and perhaps give them something natural to help cure them.

On the other hand, feticeiros are much more mysterious and eerie. Feticeiros are not known to people while they are alive. It is only when they die that their identity may be revealed, though I’m not sure how that works. In order to be a feticeiro, someone else in your family must have been a feticeiro. Feticeiros may “curse” people and cause them pain and problems.

There is a 10th grade student named Alfredo that visits us quite frequently. He watched our house while we were away for our December holidays. Alfredo is very bright, industrious, and ambitious. His family, however, does not support his studies. They are all farmers, many of whom are alcoholics, according to Alfredo. Noone has studied past the 7th class, and he has been pressured to leave his studies to work in the fields with the rest of his family.

One day, Alfredo came to our house and was upset. He said that he had been “feticizado,” which means cursed by the feticeiro, and that someone in his family had done it. He was suffering from body aches and generally wasn’t feeling well. Somebody said to him: “Eu quero ti ver bem o proximo ano” (“I want to see you well next year,”) which is a sign that you have been feticizado. He went to the curandeiro, who apparently cured him, but he was still nervous about his family’s actions towards him as a result of his studies.

It seems amazing to me that he believes so strongly in the curandeiro and feticeiro, since he is intelligent and being educated. He was aware that we have no curandeiros/ feticeiros in the States yet insisted that the powers of the curandeiro and feticeiro are real here.

Alfredo is still studying this year and has hopes not only of being the first person in his family to finish secondary school but also to study in university. I hope he is able to follow through with that and to help overcome the conflict many Mozambicans have between modernization and tradition.

When the lights went out in the village...:

On Sunday, February 15, the lights went out, the fans stopped, and the refrigerator became more of a storage area than a cooling device. All of the professors’ houses at the school lost power, and it has yet to be repaired. Apparently, it will cost about 100,000 MTN ($4,000 US) to restore electricity to the houses. I’m fairly certain that the school is not prepared to dish out that kind of money, even though it was a huge $7 million investment by the World Bank.

Around 5:30 pm, it has become too dark to see inside (and that’s SUMMERtime here—I can’t even imagine what winter will be like), so we use candles. The candles I have received in care packages have been opened and used for more than just decoration or olfactory purposes. By about 8 or 8:30, it’s bedtime.

And that’s how I skipped the rest of my young adulthood and middle age to become a 70 year-old woman.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

If you can forgive the photography, this is a picture of one of the families we're friends with in Catandica. They have 3 children: the son, Rafiki, might be the cutest little boy I've ever seen. The lady in pink was just born 2 days before this picture was taken. Once her mom brought her home, she couldn't leave the house for an entire week! Her mom asked Lindsay and me to give her an American-ish name, so we gave her a list with about 15 names (including our Mozambican names, of course). By the time I left for the States, she had narrowed it down to Carolina (my name), Cecilia (Lindsay's name), and Elaine. When we got back, we had the moment of truth.... Elaine!
I might not be able to leave this country until there's a baby named after me, though.

Obama, America, and back

My mama loves Obama:

The last time I was in Chimoio was to watch Obama’s inauguration, about two weeks ago. Although I experienced a bit of the excitement while I was home for Christmas, the majority of my 2008 election experiences have been here in Mozambique. The day of the election, I was in Catandica, proctoring national exams and was thus unable to watch the election coverage. The next morning, I received a text message from one of my friends in the village saying “Obama. Our new President. Now anything is possible.” Most of my colleagues were abuzz with excitement about the election as well. I think it shocked my school director quite a bit because he had said not too long before that there was no way that Obama would be chosen because America would never elect a black man to be President. Booyah!
At one point during my beach-filled trip down the coast of Mozambique to fly back to the States in late November/ early December, I had to send a fax to the Peace Corps office. I went to a local internet café/ tele-center to send it. At first, I was treated fairly coolly and was told that I would not be able to send the fax or would have to pay much more than was necessary. I talked to the man in charge for a bit, and eventually the conversation turned to the fact that I was American and that we had just elected a new president. Not only did he let me send the fax without further hassle, but when I went to pay him for it, he wouldn’t accept my money. I asked him why not, and he just asked me to say hello to Barak Obama for him when I got back to America. Obama and I, like Jackie Chan or Jean Claude Van Damme and I, are best friends.
I knew that the world watches America, but I wasn’t aware that they watched quite so closely. Perhaps it’s because I’m an American, but since October or November, conversations with non-Americans have almost always turned toward the elections and Obama at some point.

Back in the US of A:

My trip back home really started on Thanksgiving day, hitchhiking from Chimoio to Vilankulo. In Vilankulo, we went had a great Thanksgiving dinner of sweet & sour pork and lasagna from freeze-dried camping packs, snorkeling on a practically-deserted island, and enjoying some of the (not-so-)famous Mozambican beers on the beach. After Vilankulo, we headed South to Inhambane (a surprisingly European town) and Tofo (a great beach town with the only waves over 10 cm I’ve seen in this country). In Tofo, the highlight was definitely swimming with whale sharks. They are absolutely HUGE!!
After several days in Maputo, I was leaving on a jet plane. I didn’t sleep the entire Johannesburg, South Africa-Dakar, Senegal-New York flight. I watched movies and TV the whole time, trying to catch up on some of the pop culture I’d missed over the past year an a half. I had to switch terminals in NYC and was still dressed in African summer clothing. It was quite a shock to my system to be able to see my breath before walking out the door. Finally, almost two days after leaving Maputo (I think), I arrived in Charleston!
One of my favorite things about the trip was tap water. Not only was it there all the time- it was also drinkable and could reach a variety of temperatures in a matter of seconds. Grocery stores and Target/ Wal-Mart were other sources of entertainment. I couldn’t help but think what any of my colleagues or students would think if they were in a store with so much STUFF! It was a bit overwhelming for me, and I’m familiar with the basic layout of a Target store. I can’t imagine what somebody from the bush would think!
While in America, I stayed in Charleston for a large portion, visited my grandma and sister/ brother-in-law in NC, visited my other sister/ brother-in-law/ nephew in Providence, and ended the visit in New York City. The last time I had seen my nephew Peter, he was a little baby, but now he’s walking and talking. My other sister is pregnant and will have her baby in March. I think one of the hardest thing about living in Africa (other than transportation, illnesses, corruption, lack of available materials, etc) is that life goes on back home, even while I’m not there. Babies are born, people move, get married, get new jobs…
After a cold trip to New York, it was time to head back to Africa. I had to stay overnight in Johannesburg, South Africa and ended up staying at a huge casino. I have a not-so-secret love of betting. Luckily, I didn’t convert any dollars to South African Rand, so I couldn’t blow it all on the slots. The most surprising thing at the casino was an indoor roller coaster. I never would have expected to find one of those outside of the Mall of America!
Stepping off of the plane in Maputo, I was immediately enveloped in a blanket of heat and humidity. I could get away with wearing some of my winter clothes in Johannesburg, but an hour’s flight away, that was definitely not a possibility.

I visited my host family in Namaacha upon my return to Mozambique and brought them a lot of goodies from America. This is my host brother, Joaquim, sporting a lovely Bobby Cremins basketball camp t-shirt. (Those shirts have been a BIG hit in Mozambique. People would almost sell their souls for a t-shirt, especially one with a Nike Swoosh on it!) Joaquim is currently studying to be a teacher- math, I think.

Also in Maputo, there was a middle of service conference for the volunteers in my training group. I was really worried that I would test positive for Tuberculosis since I’d been working for several months in the TB ward at the hospital, and for about a day, the raised spot where they pricked me made me think I would indeed test positive. By the time the test was read, however, I was definitely negative. Woohoo!
After nearly two months away from Catandica, it was finally time to head back to the bush. We flew into the teensy tiny Chimoio airport. Only sight landings are possible. The only equipment there fits into a shipping container. Luckily, the weather was on our side that day, and we landed without problem. The road back to Catandica was pretty darn bad, some parts more river than road. Thank you, rainy season. On my first trip back into the villa and to the market, a lot of people told me they thought I had left and wasn’t coming back. Somehow, everybody knew that I had gone to America to spend my holidays. Funny, I only remember telling maybe 4 people in Catandica where I was going…

Now, I’m really just gearing up for the school year. We had the official opening of our school yesterday, and classes start on Monday. As of now, I’m going to be teaching 11th grade biology, which is mostly taxonomy. Not my favorite subject, but I think I’ll just blow through the necessary stuff and then do several weeks of labs and fun units in between. I have a lovely trip to Zambia and hopefully Namibia coming up in April and am already starting to think about my travels when I’m done with Peace Corps, sometime in November or December. Any ideas or suggestions would be warmly welcomed. I’m thinking about Eastern Africa: Tanzania, Kenya, and hopefully Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, and if they straighten themselves out in time, Congo. If anybody is sitting at the computer at work right now and feels like a little procrastination, feel free to do a little research for me! Shameless, I know.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Prep School of Moçambique: Escola Secundária Armando Emílio Guebuza:
On Saturday, the school is hosting a Baile dos Finalistas (a dance for the seniors), which I’m guessing is about Mozambique’s equivalent of a prom. Tickets are 300 Mtn (about $13) for non-finalistas and 250 Mtn ($10) for finalistas. The girls are wearing ball gowns (some of which look a heck of a lot like adolescent flower girls dresses… pictures to come soon!), and the boys are supposed to wear black pants and black jackets of sorts. When I asked what I should wear, they said, “Teacha’, don’t you have a ball gown here?”
At this dance, the students will be dancing the waltz and salsa, which they have been practicing for about half of the year. I’m a little nervous because my students are really excited that the American teachers will be there and I’ve already been informed that I WILL be dancing. It’s funny: this is the closest these students will have to the American version of a prom. Not only will teachers attend, but also important people from the community, like the administrator, mayor, and various chefes (bosses or leaders), will also be there.

This past Sunday (10/12) was Dia dos Professores (Teachers’ Day). It’s a big deal here, and the profession of teaching is generally very well respected. (Just ask me what I think about that statement after my students have been punks all week, though.) There was a ceremony at the praça (basically, at every holiday or important event, the villa congregates at the praça for the same general ceremony), after which there was another ceremony and some dancing/ singing.

The crowning glory was the party for the teachers that night. It was held in the gymnasium at the school, had a DJ, food, and drinks. Every teacher was served a dinner of an entire chicken. That may not seem like a big deal, but there are about 50 teachers at our school, plus their guests. AND, all of those chickens had to be killed, plucked, and cleaned. Thank you, students, for doing the dirty work! We ate very well and then danced with our colleagues until about 11:30, wayyyy past my bedtime. It was hilarious watching the teachers dance. Even our headmaster shook his bum for a bit, and we got to dance with our favorite pedagogical director (assistant principal). Some people perhaps had enjoyed themselves a bit too much throughout the day, as there were quite a few inebriated teachers by the end of the night. The next day, there were a lot of missing teachers at the school.

Concert in Moz:
After an English Theatre competition in Chimoio, we sent the students back to Catandica and stayed in Chimoio. That evening, we went to dinner at a pizza restaurant called Vapor. Later that night, there was a concert by a legitimate band. I had to check a couple times to make sure I was still in Mozambique because it seemed like something I’d go to in the States.
Some folks Lindsay and I have met were there. They all work for a company based out of Chimoio that has operations in Catandica and frequently uses helicopters to get here. The following Monday afternoon, I was teaching and heard the sound of a helicopter coming really close. The helicopter circled the school and waved- it was our friends from Saturday night saying hello! My students thought Guebuza was coming back!

The perfect storm:
On Friday, there was a huge thunderstorm, which is a good thing because the temperature had gotten up to 41°C that day. It started to get pretty strong right at dusk, and almost all of Catandica lost power. I sat on the porch and watched the lightning until the power came back on. I don’t know if I have ever seen anything like it. I could see lightning from miles and miles away. The rain was so hard that I couldn’t hear Lindsay talking—or even IF she was talking.

I was a little disappointed to get power back, but then I thought of all the people who don’t have the luxury of having such a sturdy roof over their houses. I remember a few storms during training (when I lived with a Mozambican host family) during which I was unable to sleep because of the noise of the rain and thunder and thought the roof was going to blow off. I wouldn’t wish that kind of an evening to anybody in Catandica.

School is ending. This is officially the last week of classes, though I will be here throughout the remainder of October and parts of November to help my students prepare for and then control/ correct national exams. That means that as I’m writing this, I’m currently procrastinating. Calculating grades is not at the top of my fun list, as shocking as that may sound.

It’s difficult for me to give grades here because of the Mozambican grading scale. The grading scale is out of 20 possible points, and to pass, a student must only get a 10 (technically, I guess a 9.5). I have given out only one 20 in all three trimesters, and the highest average for the year is a 17 (and that’s only one student- the same one who got the 20), and after that four students got 16. My averages for my turmas are around 12.5. The funny thing is that I know that when I turn in my grades next week, they will most likely be among the highest of all the disciplines.

It has seemed to me that the low mark for passing has caused many students set a low mark for themselves. If they only need to get half of the test questions correct to receive a passing grade, why learn all the material? Why not learn only half of it?

I’m comin’ home:
Less than 2 months! I get into NYC on December 12, and I can’t wait! I’ll probably be in SC/ NC until New Years and then NY/ RI the first week of January. Let me know if any of y’all’s plans coincide with mine because chances are that I’d love to see you!