Friday, December 9, 2011

A Minha Mae

My host family has been an absolutely integral part of my training experience.  For ten weeks, Dan and I have lived with them, eaten with them, and struggled through conversations with them in our ever-improving Portuguese.  And now, when it finally seems that everything is coming together-the baby has almost arrived, Dan and I can finally communicate in Portuguese- we are packing our bags and moving one-thousand miles away.   

It seems like we are always moving.  First, we left some very good friends in State College to live in Santa Cruz for the summer.  Then, we left our new friends in Santa Cruz to move to Mozambique.  Now, after getting close to this particular family in Namaacha, we are moving to another province, this time in the far northwest of the country.  Honestly, it’s been very painful.  This time, however, it will be a little more painful.  Before, we were leaving friends.  This time, we are leaving a surrogate family.

Dan with Ajuvencia and Chovito at the Host Family Celebration

When we stepped off the bus in Namaacha, dragging our backpacks and plasticos and rain boots, we didn’t speak a word of Portuguese.  We were overwhelmed in a new country.  Everything was new.  Most of us were sick.   Some of us were already homesick.  When we met our host mothers, we were like baby chickens hatching from an egg.  We imprinted on our host mothers immediately.   

On my first day, I couldn’t say much more than “me,” “want,” and “no!”   I had learned the phrase “posso ajudar?” (can I help?) from my handbook, but couldn’t understand mom’s answer whenever I was brave enough to ask.  Somehow, though, we developed a working relationship.  I would try to help whenever I could, and when I couldn’t, I would sit with her in the kitchen.  I would tell her where I was going and when I would be back.  Perhaps most importantly, I always made sure to find her and say “goodnight.” 

In the end, she adopted our friend Adrienne, too.  Adrienne’s own host mother was apathetic to the young volunteer living in her household.  By the end of training, Adrienne was buying breakfast and lunch in town and making her own dinners alone in the kitchen.  Adrienne’s host mother chose not to attend the Host Family Celebration and left Adrienne to pick up her certificate and pose for pictures sozinha (alone). 

Adrienne poses alone with her Family Certificate

When my host mother discovered that Adrienne’s mom was not exactly behaving like a loving, protective parent, she took over immediately.  She served Adrienne dinner for three days straight and even packed her a lunch on our last day of school.  When we took family pictures in our last week, our host mother insisted that Adrienne be in all of them. 

Adrienne, Lisa, Mae Atalia, and Dan

Because my host mother is an amazing and delightful woman, I wanted to record all that I could about her before leaving Namaacha.  Furthermore, I wanted to share her with all of you.  In the spirit of the third Peace Corps goal (teaching other Americans about the people and culture of Mozambique), I give you my host mother, Mae Atalia. 

Candid photo of Mae Atalia in front of her barraca, taken in October

For this segment, I asked my host mother to pose for several portraits and to sit for an interview.  Before we begin, I have a few notes about each of these things.  First, my host mother chose her best outfits for her portraits.  These are church outfits, and most are so precious that I never saw them before these photographs were taken.  In general, Mae Atalia wears a simple cotton dress with an apron or a T-shirt and capulana wrap.  Usually, she wears her hair up, but in most of these pictures, it is curled and oiled for picture day.  Second, this was mom’s first interview, ever.  I have translated it into English.  Some answers might seem simple, but they are honest and reflect the scope of her life and desires.  In other words, Mae Atalia has not been given many choices or many opportunities.  In asking some broad questions, her answers might not seem very creative or ambitious.  This is because she is aware of the limitations that bind her life and choses to answer within these boundaries.  She is a very pragmatic individual.

Mae in her Sunday best

Where were you born?
          I was born in Massinga, Inhambane province, on January 1, 1965.

How long did you live in Massinga?
          Until I was 25 years old.

What grade did you reach in school?  Did you like school?
          I went to school until third grade.  I liked school very much, but my parents died when I was little so I ran out of money to pay school fees. 

When did you get married?
            I started dating your father when I was 27, in 1992.  We stayed together for many years but didn’t get married until 6 years ago, when his company in South Africa asked for a marriage certificate. 

What are your hobbies?
            I like to go to church.  I like to sing in church and I like to dance in church, too.

What is your favorite food?
            Xima (watery ground corn), chicken, and vegetables

If you had one billion Meticais, what would you do?
            I would go to Maputo and buy more things, then come back to Namaacha and sell these things.

You can’t use this money to make more money!  What would you do if you won money as a prize?
            I would use it as capital

No.  You can’t do that.  Spend it on something that is just for fun.  What have you always wanted to buy?
            I would give it away to the people in this neighborhood who have no money

And if you had to spend it on yourself?
            I would build a sidewalk from the barraca to the house so that we would not be muddy when it rains.

 Mae in her Sunday Best

What is your most prized possession?
            I don’t understand.

What thing in this house is most important to you?
            Everything in this house is important and special to me.

If there was a fire inside this house, what is the first thing that you would save?
            My bed and blanket.

Where would you like to visit one day?
             South Africa

Where have you already visited in the past?
            South Africa

Finally, what do you want for your future?
            I want to live with my husband for the rest of my life.

Mae in her Sunday Best

            *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

By the time we return, Ajuvencia will have had her baby.  Our Pai will have returned home for his one-month’s leave and then will have left again.  Chovito, our cousin, will be gone, living once again with his parents in Massinga.  Hopefully, though, Mae Atalia will still be there, singing in her mother tongue while shelling peanuts in the barraca.  Maybe, if the temperature is anything less than balmy, she will be wearing her funny red woolen cap.  And maybe, if we're lucky, she has been missing us as much as we have been missing her.  


Dan and Chovito playing in the rain at the Host Family Celebration

Dan and Lisa together at the Host Family Celebration

Chovito dons his Sunday best and asks permission to be photographed

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