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.”

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