I have solved the mystery of Ajuvencia, but the answer is complicated, heavy, and steeped in native tradition and superstition. In the words of a certain local friend, the results lie rooted in a thing “most ugly in Mozambique,” o lobolo.
It was at lunch when I asked Mae Atalia about Ajuvencia.
“Lava maos?” she asked. Without waiting for an answer, she held up the pitcher and bowl with which to wash our hands. As she poured warm water over our hands and into the round plastic bowl, I said to her, “I have a question." Because my Portuguese is so broken, the question was quite blunt.
“Ajuvencia says that you are not her mother but her aunt. I don’t understand. Can you help me?”
Mae Atalia placed the pitcher on the table and folded her hands, searching for a simple reply.
“Your father,” she replied (the volunteer adoption process is taken very seriously) “and my younger sister were boyfriend and girlfriend. They had Ajuvencia. She is the daughter of my husband, so she is my daughter.”
She smiled when I repeated and rephrased her sentence, proving that I had understood. “Yes,” she reinforced. “Ajuvencia is my daughter.”
As I walked to class later that day, I grew upset. “But,” I thought to myself, “Mae Atalia has been married to Pai for 24 years. Ajuvencia is 15 years old. How can there be no bitterness?”
I brought the question to my professor, who nodded and wrote one word on the dry-erase board- lobolo. “This is the situation,” he said. “I will explain it to you.”
“A man pays a bride-price for a wife. This is called lobolo. To her family, he will pay money, cows, gold, or clothes to “buy” her away from her home and into his. For that bride price, the woman and all of her belongings, including her body, belong to him. Some men are kind but other men will abuse their ownership.
If, in the course of a marriage, it becomes clear that the woman cannot bear children, it is the responsibility of the bride’s family to provide sons and daughters as per their arrangement. After all, future generations have already been paid for. A bride who cannot have children can be considered “defective product.” In this case, the sister of the bride must bear a child for the man who paid lobolo. Neither woman has a choice in the matter- it is a financial and cultural transaction. According to cultural mores, the child does belong to your Pae and to his wife, Atalia.”
“Oh,” I said, and flushed red. I now understood. I had solved the mystery, but the feeling of satisfaction was fleeting.
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Because mail takes so long to arrive, I am including a small birthday list for interested parties. These things are things that I can NOT have too much of- don’t worry about overlap.
· Fabric! I need cloth to make a cell phone pocket in my mosquito net and a money pouch for my skirts.
· Skirts! Everyone wears skirts here. Any length, style, or color is perfect. Matching is not a priority here. I only brought two skirts with me to Mozambique and I wear them EVERY DAY.
· Simple plastic and glass jewelry. I did not bring anything “pretty” with me and now regret it. I am mostly looking for single-string necklaces with colorful beads. Please, not more than five or ten dollars!
· Knee-length leggings! I didn’t wear these in the United States but they are a necessary here. Especially if I want to wear a skirt that is shorter than knee-length! I am rather fond of those black leggings with fancy trim.
You’ll notice that most of these items reflect a deficiency in packing. I thought it would not be important to be “pretty” in Mozambique. I was so wrong! I am received much better in my community when I am dressed nicely and look bonita. This is especially true with women and little girls. Children are more likely to respond and warm up to a pretty foreigner than a plain one. This is true in the United States, too, but is more tangible here because I am trying harder to gain acceptance.
Final things to stuff in my package might include photos, magazines, tea bags, and candy. I like Earl Grey tea, chamomile tea, twizzlers, peach rings, and sour patch kids! Please don’t feel like you need to buy any of these things, however. I also like getting emails.
A few hints for sending packages
· Write in red ink. This makes the package appear more official.
· Refer to the recipient as a religious figure (for example: Sister Lisa Spencer)
· Include religious icons on the packaging
· Attempt to ship in flat packages to cut down on Customs fees
· Do not list the value of the package as more than $5. Listing a package as expensive will also drive up Customs fees.
· Do not get too attached! The Peace Corps says that only about two-thirds of packages arrive in Mozambique intact. This is pretty disheartening, I know. If you are worried but intent on mailing something, trying sending an inexpensive package with just tea or photos and a letter. ANYTHING is a treat!