Thursday, November 3, 2011

Site Visits

Dan and I are halfway through our ten-week training program in Namaacha, Mozambique.  Namaacha, located about two hours west of the capital city of Maputo, is in the far, far southern end of this long, Y-shaped country.  Thus far in our training, we have only visited Maputo, Namaacha, and a few of the cities strung between the two like Christmas lights. 

Now, though, we are about to be flung across the country for a very exciting week of training- Site Visits.  From Friday, November 4th until Thursday, November 10th, volunteers will be traveling in pairs and triplets, traveling to visit and stay with other, established volunteers in their houses.  Each pair is sent to just one site for the six-day visit.  These sites are for the sake of example only- they are no indication of where we will be sent for our permanent sites in December.
For the past few weeks, there has been much gossip and speculation about where we will be sent.  Most of this country is still mysterious to us.  We have our noses up against the windowpane but can only see Namaacha, Namaacha.  Roosters, goats, rain, red dirt, and turtledoves.  It’s beautiful, but the rest of the country seems so exciting because it is still foreign.  Beaches!  Hippos!  Mosques!  The possibilities are endless.
For site visits, volunteers will be traveling to ten of the eleven provinces in Mozambique, from Maputo province in the far south, to Cabo Delgado in the far north.  Some will be going to Tete, the inland thumb of Mozambique, while others will be traveling to one of the many seaside villages on the central coast.  When we heard that twenty volunteers would be flying to sites in the north, the excitement mounted.  Nobody wanted to be left behind. 

Today, the lists of site visit locations and traveling partners were released.  I woke up at 5AM in anticipation.  Images were running through my mind.  Beaches?  Hippos?  Beautiful mosques?  Would I be skimming over the mountains in a little puddle-jumper?  Would I get to stay in a hotel before my flight?  A hotel could mean showers.  Showers could mean cleaning some of my more obscure places.  I could finally shave my legs.  At this point, my leg hair is nearly one-inch long and downy soft, like yellow cashmere.  I haven’t washed my toes in days. 
When we received our travel packets this morning, we flipped to the announcements greedily.  Our eyes skimmed the page.  The sites were listed from closest to farthest, followed by the names of the visiting volunteers.  My name was near the very top.
Lisa Spencer, Ariel Palter …………  Inharrime, Inhambane
Dan’s name was at the very bottom
Dan Spencer, Maxx Cacieco ………… Alto Molokwe, Zambezia
I read the list two, then three times.  Dan was flying, I was not.  Dan was going north, I was not.  The little voice in my head that had been chanting
“Beaches!  Hippos!”
was reduced to an unsteady whisper.
“Beaches?  Hippos?”
Slowly, I got up to check the map.  Not only was I not going north, I was only going a few hours north of Maputo.
Dan approached me.
“Hey buddy,” he said.  “I made the flight list!”
He stopped when he saw my face.  I turned away.
“Hey,” he said.  “I’m sorry.”  I ignored him.
I didn’t say anything to anyone.  I knew I was being childish in feeling so disappointed, but also felt like the best course of action was to keep my hurt feelings to myself.
“Where are you going?” People kept asking me.
“Oh, I’m staying south,” I said, trying to turn up the corners of my mouth into some sort of smile.  ”How about you?”
I was ashamed to be so ungrateful and batted away the sticky tears that tangled in my eyelashes.  It wasn’t fair.  My birthday was this weekend.  Why did Dan get to fly to Zambezia on my birthday?  Why were some people going to seaside resorts? It was so hard not to be jealous.
I spent my lunch hour alone in the classroom, trying to concentrate on the novel I had been reading.  I was torn apart with jealousy.  I didn’t want to hear everyone talking about the upcoming trip.  Of equal importance, I didn’t want anyone to know that I was so disappointed.  My poor sportsmanship was nobody’s business but my own.
It wasn’t until a few hours later that I finally felt a little better.  Our doctor, Isadora, was giving a talk about safe sex.  She was so frank and so funny that I was drawn in, despite myself.  She showed us a slideshow entitled, “Sex- it’s a BIG issue” and included a picture of elephant sex.  I laughed for the first time that day. 
Finally, I put the trip into perspective.  I have been given two hundred dollars, a traveling partner, and the opportunity to undertake an independent journey in Africa.  For one week, I get to live with a real volunteer.  I get to see a real school and a real site and get my first real glimpse at life as a Peace Corps volunteer.  We won’t be far from the ocean, and maybe we can take a side trip.  Plus, Ariel and I do get to stay at a hotel on Friday night with a handful of other volunteers.
A hotel!  Clean ears, clean toes…
Who knows?
I let myself get a little bit excited.
A 4-hour chapa ride?
A real Peace Corps volunteer?
It’s going to be a good 24th birthday.

Summary of Training Events
Week 1 (Oct 1 – Oct 7)    –  Language Training
Week 2 (Oct 10 – Oct 14) – Language Training and Teacher Training
Week 3 (Oct 17 – Oct 21) – Language Training and Teacher Training
Week 4 (Oct 24 – Oct 28) – Language Training and Teacher Training
Week 5 (Oct 31 – Nov 4)   - Halfway Oral Language Exam, Site Visit Announcements
Week 6 (Nov 7 – Nov 11)  - Site Visits
Week 7 (Nov 14 – Nov 18) – Remedial Language (if necessary) and Teacher Training and Final Site Announcements
Week 8 (Nov 21 – Nov 25) – Model School (Pretend school taught by volunteers for neighborhood kids)
Week 9 (Nov 28 – Dec 2)     - Model School
Week 10 (Dec 5 – Dec 9)     - Final Oral Language Exam, Swearing in Ceremony

Summary of Site Visits
I am traveling to meet Erin, a Peace Corps volunteer living in southern Mozambique, in Inharrime, Inhambane Province.  Dan is traveling to Zambezia Province in the north to meet volunteers Chris and Camille.  We are going to explore two different provinces, one north and one south, and report back on what we like and want for our future sites. 
Bom Viagem!

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