Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Market

Dan and I are unusually lucky amongst Peace Corps volunteers.  Because we live in a border town, we have access to food and other goods that are not available elsewhere in the country.  We can, for instance, purchase eggplants, peanuts, okra, and shrimp on a daily (well, seasonal) basis.  These specialty items are in addition to the more common marketplace items:  tomatoes, onions, rice, beans, and garlic.  Our market is not the largest that we have been to- it's actually rather small- but in it we have everything that we want.  Even obscure goods (yeast, baking powder, toilet paper) exist in certain well-stocked bancas.

The tortuous, kilometer-long path to the Zobue marketplace

It is always an exciting adventure to walk to the market.  Because there are no large roads that lead directly to our home, the fastest route to the marketplace is actually a thin, winding footpath between the houses in our densely-packed bairro.  The path is sandy, long, and twisted.  It is also packed with children, all of whom get a real kick out of chasing us down the corridor yelling "A'zungu!  A'zungu!"  (White person!  White person!)  When Dan gets insulted by this, I gently remind him of my "White tiger theory."

"Say you live in a town that has one giant mansion."  I said.  "And in that giant mansion, there lives a very rich man who owns a white tiger.  Let's say that once every few days, he straps a diamond-studded collar on that tiger and takes it out for a walk down the street.  Now if you were a child playing in your front yard and you saw the man walk his tiger right past your house, wouldn't you be tempted to call out to your friends, "White tiger!  White tiger!"?  It's not because you hate the white tiger or are making fun of it.  It's because it's fun to see the white tiger from time to time, and that excitement is worth sharing with others."

"Are we the white tiger in this story?"  Asks Dan.

"Yup," I confirm.  "We are the white tiger."

Our favorite thing about Zobue is that nobody tries to cheat us.  We are always quoted a fair price and are treated well by the other adults in our town.  Dan and I always feel happier after visiting the marketplace- 

("Hello!  How are you!?"
"I am fine, thank you!  How are you?!"
"I am fine, thank you!")

and even I feel comfortable going shopping by myself.  

I chose to write about the marketplace because it is an absolutely integral part of our daily life in Zobue.  It takes a full hour to walk to the market and to return home again, and we make the trip nearly every day.  It is an repetitive, habitual activity that serves to make us predictable and, I think, more normal.  It helps link us to our community, and it gives us a good chance to wave at all those neighborhood children.

Two girls in pink wave as we pass by on the way to the market.  
Their little sister, also in pink, is skeptical about the camera.
Notice the Santa doll strapped to her back.

Dan and our closest neighbor Kevin (Peace Corps Malawi) en route
to the marketplace with Bwino.  This familiar route gets rather swampy
during the rainy season.

The entrance to the marketplace.  This is also the view from the road (hence the giant billboard).  Because we border with Malawi, about half of our advertisements are in English.  What a cheerful sign!  It makes me happy every day.

Inside the market.  In general, a Mozambican marketplace seems to be nothing more than a rambling pile of junk stretched over no less than a quarter-mile of straw-thatched lean-tos.  Prices are low, but the products are poor.  

Selling peanuts

Selling okra.  In Mozambique, okra is "quiabo" (key-AH-boo).

Dan and Bwino buying tomatoes

In Mozambique, one always refers to "tomatoes" in the singular form - tomatie.  More than one tomato, in Portuguese, has a more obscene meaning.  "Tomato" are always bought in groups of four, called "Little Mountains."

Today, we discovered this delicious-looking pile of dried shrimp.  Minnows are also sold in piles like this.  We have been told that they can be eaten raw, but have been reluctant to try.


A well-stocked banca.  This is where you can find your flour, margarine, eggs,
powdered milk, toenail polish, and skin-whitening cream.

Another well-stocked banca.  

In Zobue, vegetable oil is usually bought in 20 gallon jugs (see jug-stool pictured below) and separated into various waiting receptacles.  It is possible to buy oil in an unopened container, but is more expensive.

A man poses in front of his collection of capulanas

Dan's favorite treat- three-cent fried dough.  Without a firm grasp on
Portuguese, the vendor is unable to understand my question
("Can I take your picture?") and eyes the camera with uncertainty.  

Some of the beautiful Chinese junk available in Mozambique

Beautiful red beans.  The vendor was actually sleeping when I took this picture, which made my job (asking permission) much easier.

Hot chili peppers (known as piri-piri)

Oil in a variety of receptacles, including Sprite and whiskey bottles

Bright, cheerful capulanas

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


This past weekend, Dan and I traveled together from Zobue to Songo to reunite with other volunteers from Central Mozambique.  We were headed to Lake Cahora-Bassa, the long, thin lake that stretches across the western half of our province.  Since it takes about two hours to travel from Zobue to Tete City and another three hours to reach the lake itself, we switched our Friday classes and took a three-day weekend in honor of this social gathering.

Road (red) from Zobue to Cahora-Bassa

Because we are a little isolated in our corner of the country (our closest American neighbor is actually a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi), it was nice to visit with other volunteers who are serving across all of Central Mozambique.  We were at a good point in our service to exchange stories and ask for advice, since we had just completed our fifth week of school.

The lake that we were visiting, the fourth-largest in Africa, is about 150 miles long and about 19 miles wide at its widest point.  We were staying near Songo, which is at the far, far eastern end of the lake.  Because the Zambezi River flows from west to east, the famous Cahora-Bassa dam is also located at the eastern end of the lake.

While at the lake, we stayed at Casa da Pesca (Fish House), on a houseboat that we had (accidentally) rented.  We had originally planned to book a chalet at the rather famous Ugezi Tiger Lodge, but it was very, very expensive.  Instead, for just $13 a night, we chose to book several rooms at the nearby Fish House.  These rooms, it turned out, were on a boat.

I am not complaining about this.  The houseboat not only had three bathrooms and a kitchen, but a dining room and a full set of dishes, as well.  It was an exciting surprise, considering we thought that we would be staying in a simple hotel room.  On our first morning, a crocodile was spotted in the water just off the lower deck.

The highlight of our visit was a boat tour of the lake.  Though the driver didn't pack enough petrol,

(Driver:  "How much petrol do we have?  Ten liters?  Fifteen?"
 Assistant:  "Five."
 Driver:  "Well, shit.")

and had to rush back to shore lest we run adrift in croc-infested waters, it was still our first opportunity to see hippos and crocodiles in Mozambique.

The following pictures tell the story of our first vacation in Mozambique:

We inadvertently booked a houseboat for the weekend... 

...A houseboat with a draw-bridge.

Our houseboat on Lake Cahora-Bossa, Mozambique
Our bedroom at the back of the boat
Jamie (Moz 17- Manica Province) beams from her bunk bed in our shared room
Dining Room on the second story of the houseboat
Lake Cahora-Bassa at sunset
Single-tree dugout canoes.  These go out into the crocodile-infested water every day.
Jetty to launch our boat tour.  Note that the steps do NOT go all the way to the shore.
Loading onto the boat for our tour of Lake Cahora-Bassa
After some deliberation, Jamie braves crocodiles and parasites to board the dock
Ian and Hannah (Moz 15 - Sofala and Tete Province) on board the boat on Lake Cahora-Bassa
Speeding down the Gorge
Jamie and Lisa (Moz 17- Manica and Tete Province) on board the boat tour 
The steep walls of the gorges of Lake Cahora-Bassa
Low-lying crocodiles in the lake
Hippos in the lake.  They spout like whales!
Our wake in the water and the steep terrain of the surrounding landscape.  Speeding back to land.
Coca-Cola in re-fillable glass bottles (some of which are very old).  Fifty cents.  Very common in Mozambique.
Dan (Moz 17 - Tete Province) climbs a Baobab tree at a nearby lake lodge
A monkey at the lake
A dung beetle rolling down the road.  A very exciting find!
"C" for "Central Mozambique"  -  "C" for "Cohesion"

And here is a fun fact about Lake Cahora-Bassa:  It is widely believed that there exists a colony of breeding "Zambezi Sharks" within the boundaries of the lake.  The current theory is that a number of bull sharks were trapped upstream following the construction of the Cahora-Bassa dam and are now existing quite happily as a single, isolated population.  Local tribes have reported shark sightings and shark attacks in the lake itself, but, as of yet, there has been no hard evidence of freshwater sharks within the dam.

While this is very exiting, it is interesting to note that the hippopotomus, not the bull shark, mamba, or even the lion, is considered to be most dangerous animal in Africa.  Hippos are extremely aggressive, fast, and territorial.  The other dangerous animal found in the lake, the Nile crocodile, is considered to be the "most prolific predator of humans among wild animals." These two species combined account for hundreds, if not thousands, of deaths in southern Africa every year.

Suddenly, sharks seem quite tame in comparison.  At least they stay in the water.  Hippos and crocodiles are amphibious!

When you consider the abundance of exotic and dangerous life under the surface of the water, however, it is alarming to realize that hundreds of local tribesmen depend on the lake for survival.  Every day, they go out onto the lake to fish.  What is their mode of transportation, you might ask?  How do they stay safe when the water is churning with hungry, grinning, toothy beasts?  On a dug-out, single-tree canoe no bigger than the width of their hips, of course!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The School

Dan and I work at the Escola Secondaria de Zobue, a primeiro ciclo (first cycle) school for about 750 children in grades 8 - 10.  I teach five classes of eighth grade English (8A - 8E) in classrooms 1 - 5.  Dan teaches four classes of eighth grade math (8A - 8D) and two classes of tenth grade computers.  Each class has about 50 students. 

There are more students in eighth grade (about 350) than in ninth (200) and in tenth (200), because many students will not successfully make the transition from elementary school to high school. About 150 will drop out after their first year in high school and choose not to continue their education.  A large portion of these children leave school because they are too far behind (they don't know how to read, write, or speak Portuguese), and school has become overwhelming.  

There is no second-cycle school in Zobue.  If a student wishes to continue past tenth grade, they will have to leave town and stay with relatives in the city or dorm at the new boarding school in Moatize.  Most students just abandon their education at that point.  To leave town at the age of 16, 17, or 18 is a frightening prospect. It also means a loss of income for the family left behind.  

Our school is surprisingly tiny.  In fact, when Dan and I saw it for the first time, we thought we were only seeing an annex of the real Secondary School.  We were used to the sprawling high school complexes in the United States.  The school that we were looking at only had six classrooms, lined up in a row.  

Escola Secondaria de Zobue

Every day at 12:30, the eighth graders line up in front of the school to sing the National Hymn.  Then, they shuffle off to their classrooms, where they will stay for the rest of the afternoon.  They sit one, two, or three to a desk.  The students must arrive before the teacher, and will stand up to greet the teacher as he or she enters the room.

View of the Main Office, Computer Room, and Classrooms 4 - 6

View of Classroom 3 from the National Hymn yard

Bwino in front of Classroom 4

View of Classroom 2 through an empty windowpane

Standing at the entrance to Classroom 6

An empty classroom

The teacher's desk and blackboard

An empty classroom.  Note the corrugated tin roof. 
Very noisy in the rainy season.

View from the back of the classroom