Friday, September 30, 2011

New Friends and the Training Proces

Everybody here is looking to make new friends.  It’s like the first day of kindergarten, if kindergarten took place in a WWII foxhole.  Each of us is a new kid in a sea of new faces, far from home and anxious.  We share the same fears and understandings- we are supportive of one another because there is no reason to compete. 

Peace Corps Mozambique Group 17

Today was a truly fantastic day.  Still at the Hotel Cardoso, we woke up to join the group for breakfast at 7AM.  One suitcase was turned in, to be returned upon our Start of Service date in December.  Lectures began at 8AM, with the introduction of a few key training, administrative, and safety officers.  I was looking forward to the discussion led by the Security Office in the hopes that it would address my fears and clarify true threats to safety of volunteers.  I think many people were alarmed by the presentation, but I found it to be reassuring.  It was nice to have our shared anxieties discussed openly and honestly. 

“The Crime Risk in Maputo is labeled ‘Critical,’” said the Security Agent who gave us the lecture.  “In the cities to the north, it is considered to be ‘High.’  These are the things that can happen, these are the ways to minimize your risk, and these are the things you can do if anything should happen.”  We left the morning conference armed with phone numbers, instructions, and anecdotes that were more informative than terrifying. 

“I had my stuff stolen,” the Agent said, before letting us go, “when I was a volunteer fifteen years ago.  I left my site for the weekend and someone broke the bars off my window and took everything.  They took my radio, my pots and pans, my spatula, everything.  But I could replace all of that stuff.  Remember, in the case of a robbery, they are after your stuff, not you.”

The afternoon sessions dealt with the training schedule and with our host families.  The Week 1 Training Schedule looks like this:

Monday, October 1
7:30 – 9:30AM:           Processing
10:00 – 11:00AM:       Official Opening of Training
11:00 – 12:00PM:       Introductions
1:20 – 2:30PM:           Safety and Security / Emergency Action Plans
2:30 – 4:00PM:           Introduction to Peace Corps Network and Handling Stress

Tuesday, October 2 and Wednesday, October 3
7:30 – 9:30AM:           Language Training
10:00 – 12:00PM:       Language Application
2:00 – 4:00PM:           Language Training
4:00 – 5:00PM:           Language Tutoring

Thursday, October 4
7:30 – 9:30AM:           Introduction to Education Project
10:00 – 11:00AM:       Vaccines
11:00 – 12:00PM:       Food and Water Preparation and Sanitation
1:00 – 3:00PM:           Introduction to the Mozambique Education System
3:15 – 5:00PM:           The History of Mozambique

Friday, October 5
7:30 – 9:30AM:           Language Training
10:00 – 12:00PM:       Language Application
2:00 – 4:00PM:           Language Training
4:00 – 5:00:                 Language Tutoring

Saturday, October 6
7:30AM – 3:00PM:     Language Application Field Trip

In this case, our Language Application Field Trip refers to our expedition to Maputo to buy cellular phones.  In general, we have 22 hours of language training per week and 12 hours of technical training.  In addition, we have medical and cultural classes, field trips, classroom visits, and homework.  We are expected to be home with our host families every night by 7:00PM Sunday through Thursday.  Nobody is complaining.  We are all too excited. 

Our host family discussion was the most entertaining of our presentations.  Abby Langstead, a Peace Corps Volunteer with a 12-month extension, gave an amazing talk on host families and what we could expect upon arrival in Namaacha (Nah-MAH-Shuh). 

“Okay, so, greetings,” said Abby.  “Most people kiss once on both cheeks when they greet each other.  You don’t have to actually touch your lips to their face, you just brush your cheek against their cheek.  Men don’t usually kiss men, but men kiss women and women kiss other women.  Couples are an exception to this rule.  Couples do not kiss in public.  Kissing, hugging, and holding hands are all considered to be private.  Although couples can’t hold hands, hand-holding is very common in Mozambique.  Little boys hold hands when they walk to school, father hold hands with their children, girls hold hands.  Your host family will probably greet you with kisses and then hold your hand as you walk to the house.  Also, they will probably try to hold your bags.  Just… let them.  It’s a way of being respectful and hospitable.  Even if they give your forty-pound backpack to this little tiny kid just… let it happen.”

Somebody raised their hand.  “What do we do when we get back to the house?”

“Well,” said Abby, “you will probably learn how to use the toilet, which is either a pit latrine or a toilet where you dump the water in with a bucket.  They will also show you how to shower.  Your host family has been led to believe that you are, basically, infants.  Your water needs to be boiled and sanitized, you do not speak the language or know the customs.  You do not even know how to take a bath.  Your host parents might pantomime the entire shower sequence for you.  Some host mothers will try to bathe you, thinking that you do not know how to clean yourself at all.”

“What are the showers like?” Someone asked.

“You will either have a shower in a separate building outside or as an extra room in the house,” she said.  “You get a big bucket of water from the stove and stand in the shower stall or tub.  You use a cup, like a (gestures) you know, plastic cup to pour the water on yourself.  You might think that there’s not enough water but, trust me, there’s enough.”  She stops gesturing.  “Do you want me to keep going, or…”

“No, no, no, keep going!”  We urged.

“So you usually wet your hair and then use shampoo and soap at the same time before rinsing.  The water drains out of a hole in the corner of the floor.  There’s usually a concrete block to put your clothes on and, oh, there’s usually a rock that they use as a sort of scrub/exfoliator.  It’s the best tool ever, especially for your feet.”

“Does everyone in the family have their own rock?”

“No.  Just one rock.”

A hand goes up.  “Do our host families feed us every meal?”

“Yes.  Host families are given money to make your breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, and dinner.  They will try to feed you too much.  Their biggest fear is that they will fail by starving you to death.  It’s okay to say, ‘Chega (Shay-guh),’ which means ‘Enough.’  Lunch and dinner are hot meals, so you’ll walk home for both lunchtime and dinnertime.”

“Oh,” she added, as an afterthought, “After you arrive, they will probably take you to other houses to show you off.  Host families are proud to have you in their house, even if you are just a know-nothing baby.”

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Arrival in Maputo

Dan and I are thrilled to announce that today, after a 17-month process, a 15-hour plane ride, and numerous tearful goodbyes, we have arrived in the capital city of Mozambique.  The plane arrived in Maputo ( mah-POO-too) at approximately 11AM Lisa-and-Dan Time, at which point we greeted Country Director Carl Schwartz, gathered our luggage, and proceeded to load all of it onto what appeared to be a horse trailer made of reinforced wire.  A quick calculation suggests that we were carrying more than 4,000 pounds of luggage, the bulk of which was made up of socks, underwear, and candy.   We then piled onto two maxi-vans (four abreast in six rows) and chugged through the city of Maputo. 

As we pulled away from the airport, the scenes started to slide by- the airport parking lot, the gatekeeping station, a little boy walking his goat… We saw advertisements for Coca-Cola, diapers, and condoms painted on the sides of concrete houses while little barefoot boys ran along the sidewalk after older siblings.  A boy wearing a broken flip-flop was whipping a belt like Indiana Jones, lost in a private game.  I saw a woman balancing a basket of oranges on her head and two teenage school-girls in uniform, looking smug and too old for their age.  The sight of them made me feel distinctly nervous and out-of-place. 

“I’m too young to teach those girls,” I thought.  “They would eat me alive.”

Everything was awash with color.  The fruit stands were bright and piled high while every house boasted an advertisement for some common market product, usually Coca-Cola.  Somebody said that houses were painted with advertisements because the paint was free. 

We are staying at the Hotel Cardoso.  In general, the Peace Corps does not select luxury establishments for trainees, but this particular hotel was the only one that had all 25 rooms available.  The hotel and grounds are very beautiful.  A large grassy lawn leads to an overlook of the bay and to a tiled patio with two pools.  Amenities include a shower, television, and wireless internet.  Twice today we have eaten at the hotel buffet.  It is certainly not the hardship that we anticipated.  The only unpleasant happenings involved a round of vaccinations and an anti-malarial prophylaxis that lodged in my throat.
 Hotel Cardoso

Contacting and visiting us in Mozambique:
As many of you know, our training address is “Lisa and Dan Spencer, PCV, Corpo da Paz/U.S. Peace Corps, C.P. 4398, Maputo Mozambique.”  Mail takes 2 to 4 weeks to arrive.  Our training ends in the beginning of December, but our mail will be forwarded to us if your letter or package arrives late.  Flat paper mail is best- a letter, crossword puzzle, soduku puzzle, comic strip, photograph, etc.  These are less expensive to send and will be very exciting for us. 

If you will be coming to visit, I suggest taking South African Airlines.  The service was wonderful and that fact that we had two full meals, free wine, blankets, pillows, socks, earphones, and television made that 15 hour flight much more enjoyable. 

(Note about traveling through Johannesburg and Maputo:  Place secure locks on all luggage, even carry-ons.  Many Peace Corps volunteers had stuff stolen at the airport.  Most of the articles went missing when the crew unexpectedly ordered carry-on luggage to be checked during our short flight from Johannesburg to Maputo.  Most of the carry-on luggage had not been locked and volunteers lost jewelry, music players, and, in one case, over $300.00.  Volunteers pooled funds to replace the lost money, but it was still a tough introduction to life in Africa.)

I do recommend the Hotel Cardoso.  It might be expensive (it feels expensive), but we feel safe and there are many international travelers staying here.  The front desk can  exchange currency, and does so at a reasonable rate.  Currently, one US dollar is worth approximately 26 meticals (MZM).  What we can buy with 26 meticals has yet to be determined. 

Next time:  Our New Friends and our Training Schedule

Flying Across the Atlantic

Dan and I are currently flying over the Atlantic Ocean, somewhere between West Africa and New York City.  The date is September 28, and we are flying to Johannesburg, then Maputo, to begin our Peace Corps Pre-Service Training.  It’s about 2:15PM in Philadelphia, but my computer is still on California time.  Mozambique shares a time zone with Rome and is six hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.  We checked out of the hotel this morning at around 2:30AM, so we are by no means an active or sociable crowd.  Most trainees are sleeping.  The windows are drawn shut and the cabin lights are darkened.  Some volunteers, like Dan, are watching a movie.  From time to time, someone stands up in the aisle to stretch.  One of our new friends is on his third (free) bottle of wine.  Lunch (beef, chicken, or pasta) was about an hour ago.  We will be in Johannesburg in about 12 hours. 

Our training began in earnest yesterday at noon.  I had spent the morning frantically packing, unpacking, and weighing my suitcase, trying to even the distribution between my “keep at staging” and “send to site” bags.  It was to the point where I was taking individual leaves of scrapbooking paper out of my suitcase to whittle down the weight of the bag. I was pretty sweaty from moving the suitcase on and off the scale and was still dressed in a borrowed nightie while my clothes were in the wash.  Needless to say, I fretting.  Everyone was pretty quiet on the car ride down- Dan’s Mom (Laura) was sad, Dan was excited, and I was reviewing our packing list in a state of high anxiety.  Laura cried when she dropped us of, which made me feel terrible and confused.  It was in this state of mind that Dan and I registered for the conference.  It took everything I had not to break down in tears.

There are 53 volunteers in our training group.  We are all teachers, in some capacity, and we all have something very important in common- we are leaving our homes, our friends, and our families to try to do something bigger than ourselves.   The other volunteers are from all across the United States- one from New Orleans, two from Seattle, five from California, six from Pennsylvania, one from Florida, etc.  There is one other married couple in our group, and we have nobody over the age of 31.  

So here we are, flying 10,000 kilometers above the Atlantic Ocean.  We are traveling in a strange state of limbo.  South African Airlines has made every attempt to make this flight a pleasant one- the wine is free, the dinner comes in cute little packages, and, for the next 12 hours, we have access all the movies and television we could possibly want- but we know that we are headed for a world characterized by depravation. 

Still, we have been waiting for this for a long time.  We are ready for stiff legs and bleary eyes.  We are ready for diarrhea and nausea and vomiting.  We are ready for parasites that have to be surgically removed and for tapeworms the size of a gym-class climbing rope.    We are so prepared to suffer that we feel a little guilty enjoying this flight.

Up Next:  Arrival in Maputo