Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Condusive Life

This is Zachariah. 

Zachariah Lapiassi, Age 21

He is one of our closest friends at site and one of the very best people we have ever met.  He speaks English fluently, as well as Portuguese and Chi-Chewa.  He attends church every Saturday and is perfectly, impeccably, honest and good.

I wrote about him, before, last January, when he first told me about his life and his many, compounding difficulties.  At the time, he was doing data entry for a small construction business.  He was earning very little money and struggling with illness from the water in the city.  He was “suffering” from the “fierce heat of the sun” and “feeble” from “non-viscous excrement.”  He was wholly miserable, and there was little that we could do to help.

In June, Zachariah lost his job.  Caught between his Portuguese bosses and his Mozambican co-workers, he felt as if he had no choice but to take the most honorable route and resign from his position.  He moved back to his family farm in the village of Tchessa (5 kilometers outside of Zobue) and started selling gasoline on the highway. 

“Help me, Lisa,” he said.  “I beseech you.  Can you help me advance my life?”

I wanted to, but I couldn’t.  I didn’t have any connections in town and I didn’t have any ideas.  There was nothing I could do. 

Then Dan and I received a text from a missionary family on the outskirts of Tete City.

“We’ve been reading your blog,” the message read, “and we were wondering if your friend Zachariah would be interested in working for our church.  We are looking for an interpreter.”

I jumped straight up in the air and clapped my hands.

“Yes, yes!” I said to Dan.  “Tell them yes!”

And so the second saga of Zach’s adventure began.  On Tuesday morning, he packed two pairs of slacks and took a chapa to Moatize.  By Wednesday afternoon, he had already started working.  He is now officially a translator for the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite.  If all goes well, he will transfer to the next missionary, and then the next, and the next.  We can only pray. 

It is the best possible job in the world for Zachariah, and an opportunity that he truly deserves.  I can’t think of anyone who speaks English better than he does, or anybody who is more devoted to their church.  I believe that he will be successful, and I am so, so, so proud of him.  His whole life is just beginning. 

In honor of Zachariah and his big, exciting success, I want to publish an essay that he wrote for me on the topic of Mozambique.  This essay, more than anything I could possibly write myself, really illustrates the depth of his language skills and earnest nature of his character.  He wrote this essay after I prompted him to find more information on this history of Mozambique.  Everything in this composition—the pictures, the vocabulary lists, the funny, old-fashioned language—is his and his alone. 

Read, enjoy, and learn!  This is our friend, Zachariah. 


The History of Mozambique
Life in the Olden Days

I am cajoled by your supplication, Lisa, that you want to know about how people lived in the past—
Zachariah Lupia Lapiassi

Before the emerge of maize seed and other seeds we see now, people were not tilling ground at all but, instead, were nourishing the following foods:  chitedize, calongonda, yams, mpama, bamboo ears, and wild fruit.   Because there was no maize, tender/fresh bamboo was smashed to flour for xima preparation.

When corn emerged there were no mortars or maize mills.  People would soak the maize in water for it to turn soft and then they would take it to the grinding place and rub it with a grind stone into powder.  Then xima was made in clay pots.  Indeed, it was a dreadful age.

There was no fire in the past but man’s brain gradually began to be witful.  People discovered that tenderly dried pieces of bamboo were a source of fire.  The bamboo would be cut to pieces about the size of a bamboo node and another would be cut and made thinner with a pike at one end.  The stout piece was bored in the middle to place the spike in there and therefore a man would rub the thinner one against the whole of the stout one.  The friction would render the crumbs to be glowing with heat and then the glowing crumbs would trigger fire to burn.  Underneath the stout bamboo there were some tiny nyanda pieces placed to kindle easily.

There was no metal after the introduction of corn.  Therefore persons used branches of trees to till the soil for the corn. 

There were no clothes here!  People used to wear nyanda to cover their nudity.  They were not able to find enough nyanda to cover the whole body so they would use the nyanda as a loin-cloth.  This is an appalling story.  They were unable to assuage the plight. 

Soap was not found at all but people used bwazi and chipuzi to cleanse the stubborn stains in their clothes and nyanda.  First was nyanda because cloth came later.

Houses were not as we behold now.  There were only molded houses not topped with grass as we see but they were oval-like on top.  Then after molding in that manner the houses were burned in and out to make it hardened as a pot for curry so that the rain drops would pound the top of the houses with vehemence with no harm. 

But with the introduction of metal people began to make arrows and the spirit of killing became common.  The matter was to scramble for women because men would try to marry many women.  Every man was supposed to walk with a spear to fend off himself unless he dies and then the killer would take the deceased’s wife as his wife.  Your enemy would come at night with a spear and get on top of your house thereby trying to bore the top of your house even trying to urinate in the hole in order to break through the house top-soil layer so that he can impale you and take your wife.  There was no unison but violence then. 

People were becoming able to make gun-powder using the salt-like substances formed on dried rock puddles and in caves.  They would take the salt-like matter and mix it with the well-roasted dry part of the bark of chatowa with some water added.  This is even used nowadays with people but it’s not publicly done.

Salt for the curry was not available but people used a certain plant that grows in water as salt.  They would dry it and then burn it to ashes and the ashes were put on a bamboo plate with some water so that the bamboo vessel would leak salt-like juices for the preparation of curry (as shown in the following illustration).  The name of the plant is mwerere.

There is a need of translation for these words to you:

Bwazi:  Bark (a shrub whose root-barks and stem-barks produce bubbles as soap)
Chipuzi:  Wild cucumber
Mwerere:  A plant found in rivers in which the ashes produce salty juice
Mpama:  Creepers (like yams, eaten in times of scarcity)
Matowa:  A tree fruit (like chewing gum but more sticky)
Chatowa:  A tree that exudes white glue used in catching birds
Nyanda:  A loin-cloth, cloth made from bark of a tree, mainly a fibrous one

I, Zachariah, am completely humble because with your request, Lisa, I have learned deep things which I did not know at all in life.  Please confine this in your mind and tell your siblings and parents about the past life here in Tete more specifically Zobue.  Now I close out with my assignment. 

Good Lucky!

--Zachariah Lupia Lapiassi


So here's to Zachariah.  Here's to his new job, his future prospects, and his funny, funny English.  Of equal importance, here's to all of the Peace Corps Volunteers who sat with him, talked to him, and nurtured his love of learning.  I believe that the Peace Corps can make a difference, and I believe that Zachariah is living proof of the positive effects of grass-roots development.

Thank you Chelsea, Katie, Angelina, Janet, Luke, and "Mr. Jordan".  He talks about you all the time!  Your time in Africa was meaningful and you are still important to the people who "knew you when."

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Things I Wish I Had Known

In just one month, the newest education volunteers will arrive in Maputo, Mozambique.  This group will consist of 55 new volunteers and 12 transfer volunteers from Portuguese-speaking Cape Verde.  The trainees will fly into Maputo via Johannesburg and then be shipped off to Namaacha for ten weeks of intensive language and cultural training.  They will learn a totally new set of skills, including lessons on how to teach in Mozambique, how to communicate in Portuguese, how to teach in Portuguese, and how to bathe in a bucket.  As we prepare to greet this newest group of volunteers, Dan and I are also organizing our thoughts and pieces of advice.  We have learned a lot in this past year, and we have a lot of information to share. 

In honor of the newest group of volunteers, I want to share a list of things that I wish I had known before moving to Mozambique.  It’s difficult to get an accurate picture of Mozambique from just reading a few blogs, but I will try my hardest to get that picture across.

Things I Wish I had Known Before Moving to Mozambique:

Just about now, the newest training class is probably starting to read over the packing list provided by the Peace Corps Team in Mozambique.  It is a good list, but it can be a little overwhelming.  If an individual tried to pack every single item on that list, he would quickly find himself overwhelmed by his own stuff.  The following list is clarification of important (and not important) items, based on my everyday life here in Mozambique:

To Bring
  •  Laptop Computer-  You will use your computer in Mozambique.  90-95% of sites have at least intermittent electricity and Namaacha is fully electrified.  Bring your computer to share pictures from home, to save new pictures, and to watch movies and TV shows.  Also, most of us use computers for school.  It is much easier to calculate grades using MS Excel than by using a paper and pencil.
  • External Hard Drive-  Peace Corps Mozambique loves TV.  Most of us will travel with our external hard drives and stock up on new shows everywhere that we go.  For future reference, Peace Corps Mozambique loves Modern Family, Mad Men, Glee, Game of Thrones, and How I Met Your Mother.  Most volunteers are in their houses by 7PM, so a good television show makes a good friend after dark. 
  • Digital Camera-  The best way to record your Peace Corps experience is with a digital camera.  The scenery is beautiful and the kids are cute.  Don’t worry if you have a big, expensive camera.  Buy insurance and bring it along.  You will be sorry if you don’t.
  • Your Hobbies- You will work hard in Mozambique, but there will also be a lot of quiet time.  Bring hobby materials with you.  Your hobbies will make you happy, reinforce your sense of self, and give you something to share with your new community.

Little Extras
  • Kindle or Nook-  Nice to have and very lightweight. 
  • Bug Tent-  For easy traveling.  Also good for guests.
  • Lightweight Sleeping Bag-  For easy traveling.
  • Pictures from Home-  Great for showing off your family and for starting conversations.  Your students will like them, too.
  • Spices-  Most spices are available in Mozambique, but some spices are hard-to-find or rather expensive.  Spices are light, so bring a few of your favorites with you.
  • Make-up and Jewelry-  You will want to be pretty and professional at work and at conferences.  Bring things that will make you feel like yourself. 

Things That You Can Actually Buy in Mozambique
  • Clothing-  Clearly, you should bring your own clothing from the United States.  It would be silly to buy a whole new wardrobe upon your arrival.  That being said, however, please remember that you don’t need to pack every article of clothing that you have ever owned.  A few nice shirts and skirts, a few nice pairs of jeans, and a couple of sturdy pairs of shoes will actually suffice.  You can buy any article of clothing in Mozambique, and, if you don’t mind buying it used, you can do it very, very cheaply.  Your living space will be cramped and, in the first couple of months, you will be lugging your things around a lot.  Make your life easier and limit the number of clothes that you bring.
  • Soap, shampoo, toothpaste, and deodorant-  All of these things can be bought in Mozambique.  Bring enough shampoo and deodorant to last you through the first few weeks of training, but don’t worry about supplying yourself for the next two years. 
  • School supplies-  Peace Corps supplies you with plenty of pens and notebooks during the course of your training.  Your school should supply you with the rest—textbooks, chalk, erasers, etc.
You can buy almost anything in Mozambique, so don’t panic about your packing list.  I have bought sweaters, jeans, shoes, shirts, dresses, socks, flip-flops, hats, and even a swimsuit here in Mozambique.  You can buy specialty items, as well, including perfume and solar chargers.  Remember, you are moving to a country that is developing rapidly.  All of the big cities have a supermarket and even the smallest sites have a small marketplace.  You will be able to find almost everything that you need.

One final piece of advice:
When packing your bags, just assume that anything that is going with you is not coming back.  Things will break, deteriorate, get lost, or get stolen.  You will give things away when it is time to leave.  Some things you simply won’t want anymore.  Pack like it is never coming back.

Contact and Electronics
One of the biggest misconceptions about serving in Peace Corps Mozambique is that communication will be spotty or non-existent.  Mozambique is actually developing very rapidly, and connectivity is getting better and better.  You will want to know the following information:

There are three network carriers in Mozambique:  MCel, Vodacom, and Movitel.  The newest carrier, Movitel, provides cell service and fast internet to some of the most remote towns in Mozambique.  Peace Corps will no longer be placing volunteers in sites without phone service, so every volunteer will have access to at least one of these carriers. 

During their second week of training, new volunteers will be taken to Maputo to purchase a Mozambican phone and to set up their phone plans.  Every volunteer receives about $4 a month to pay for phone credit for calls within country and most volunteers use their phones every day.  The Medical Office, Safety and Security Office, and the Country Director are all available by telephone at a moment’s notice.  Friends and family from the States can also call volunteers using Google Voice ($0.12/minute for Movitel, $0.13/minute for MCel, or $0.24/minute for Vodacom) or Skype. 

A USB modem can be purchased in any large city to provide Internet at home.  Internet plans vary between the three network carriers but the best plan is currently with Movitel, who provides a 1GB/1 Month plan for 600 Meticais ($22).  Prices continue to drop as competition between the three carriers gets more intense.  Many volunteers also have an Internet phone for email and Facebook. 

Some volunteers (like yours truly) are online every day.  Most talk to their families about once a week.  Communication is expanding rapidly in Mozambique.  Parents, please don’t worry.  Your child is not going to disappear!

Safety and Security
It’s so easy to feel scared when you are learning about a country from afar.  Reports on rape and theft and vehicle accidents can play over and over in your mind until it seems like these events are commonplace, even imminent.  I want to let you know that this is not the case.  Things feel very different when you are actually living in that country.  Things start to feel normal.  I feel safe in Mozambique, and you will too.  Let’s take a good hard look at the three main threats to Peace Corps Volunteers living and working in Mozambique.

o   Burglary and Theft
Theft is the most common threat to volunteers in Mozambique.  It is very common to have something stolen (either from your person or from your home) and most volunteers will lose something in the course of their two-year service.  That being said, most incidents are small.  Some volunteers will have a clothesline stolen from their front yard.  Other volunteers will lose a sock or a spoon from the drying bin.  Others will have money stolen from their pocket or a phone taken out of their bag.  The most important thing to remember is that thieves do not mean this personally.  They want to use your stuff or sell it to try to improve their own financial situation.  It’s not because they hate you.   In most cases, they don’t even know you.  It happens to other Mozambicans, too. 
o   Sexual Assault
Sexual assault is not very common in Mozambique, but a volunteer should take precautions just as they would in their own American hometown.  Take a cab, stay with the group, and keep your wits about you.  Your behavior is your own responsibility.  There will always be bad people in the world, but there is no more evil in Mozambique than there is in America.
o   Transportation
Transportation is certainly a bit rickety in Mozambique.  Many vehicles are cheap hand-me-downs from other, wealthier nations and are subject to all sorts of interesting malfunctions.  Chapas go too quickly, trucks go too slowly, and everyone seems to drive like a teenager with a brand-new driver’s license.  There are no passing lanes, so a head-on collision always seems like an imminent possibility.  Strangely, though, all of us volunteers have found a way to accept our travel situation.  How is that possible?  Though a combination of pickiness, resignation, and faith, that’s how.  This is the Serenity Prayer for Travel in Mozambique:

Grant me the serenity to accept the vehicles I cannot change
The courage to change vehicles when I can
And the Wisdom to make the most informed decision 
when traveling on the road

While there are dangers in Mozambique, I want to reiterate that is no more evil in Mozambique than there is in America.  Africa is not some dark, scary continent that seeks to devour the American adventurer—it’s a continent of real people living real, ordinary lives.  You will be surprised by how quickly your life starts to feel normal.  You will sleep at night, I promise.

More advice
  •  It gets cold in Mozambique!  Bring a warm jacket and a pair of fluffy socks. 
  • It gets hot in Mozambique!  Be prepared for that, as well.  
  •  Practice your Portuguese!  The more you know, the less awkward your first few days are going to be.  
  • Get excited!  Peace Corps Mozambique is one of the very best Peace Corps countries (No, really.  I wish they gave awards for this sort of thing).  The country is gorgeous, the people are friendly, and the staff is exceptional.  Welcome aboard!  We are excited to meet you!

Friday, August 17, 2012


Winter is drawing to a close.  Gone are the clear, frigid mornings where cook-fire smoke spreads low along the ground.  Gone are the woolen hats and bulky second-hand coats.  The people of Zobue wake up earlier now, since it's warm at the break of dawn.  By mid-morning, the neighborhood is hot and bright.  My students have started bringing sweat rags to school.  

The change in the seasons has brought about one striking realization-- Zobue is bone dry.  As the winter pulls away, an entirely new town is left in its wake.  All of the cornfields have been stripped bare and replaced with skeletal, rattling rows of pigeon peas.  The air is gritty with dust. The mountainsides are turning yellow and the wells are running dry.  Everyone is waiting for the rain. 

There's a charm to Zobue at this time of year.  Most of the fields are lying low and empty, so one can see for miles.  The hiking is amazing, and the scope of the landscape is wide.  We've done some of our best exploring in the past couple of months.  

Unfortunately, the water situation is getting difficult.  The wells in our town have been running dry, one by one.  The water in the well next door is now nothing more than a thick, brown sludge.  Our landlady has asked us to retrieve our water elsewhere, so that we might leave the remaining bits of water for her and her family.  The pump at the school has all but run dry, with a few hefty pumps yielding no more than a trickle of brown water.  Families have started guarding their water supply and charging money for the use of their wells.  Our waterboys now walk for nearly a kilometer to fetch the water that we use at our house.

The present water situation has forced us to re-evaluate the way that we use water.  We were never wasteful, but now we are downright frugal.  Almost every cup of water is used twice, with the exception of drinking water.  Dan and I did a water survey over the past week to see how much (and how) we use our water, and we discovered that in the course of an average given week, we use about 180 liters of water.  This means that Seni and Romao are dragging nine 20-liter buckets up our front steps, every week. 

In our house, water is reused in the following ways:

Bathwater  -->  used to wash laundry, to rinse dishes, or to wash out the chamberpot
Dishwater  -->  used to rinse other dishes or to wash out the chamberpot
Laundry Water  -->  used to wash the floor

It is interesting to note that 180 liters of water are equal to approximately 50 gallons of water. This means that Dan and I are each using 3.5 gallons of water every day.  It is probably still too much.

The photographs below illustrate the following two themes:

Zobue in the Dry Season
A Comparison of Water Use

For more information on water, water usage comparisons, and water consumption, visit Water Footprint or The Water Organization

The sandy topsoil in Zobue
A little horned lizard enjoying the sunlight
The dry season is brick-making season.  The clay for these bricks is dug from the substrate,
 then shaped with molds and dried in rows.  
Scenes of Wintertime in Zobue:
1.  Carrying water from the pump (note that the figures on her T-shirt are also carrying water)
2.  Dried bricks stacked behind the pit from which they were dug.
Bricks are stacked in this way to limit their contact with the ground
3.  Pigeon peas planted in rows.  
A small family compound between the mountains.  Note the dried grass and the color of the landscape.
Hiking in the mountains.  Again, note the dried grass and the color of the landscape.
Despite the dry heat, a few flowers are still in bloom
All of them are yellow
The "river" in Zobue.  The stretch of water on the left is milky with soap.  This is where
Romao washes his clothes.  The stretch on the right is used for "bathing only, not drinking."
Typical well in a family compound.  Usually between twenty and thirty feet deep.
Left:  Community water pump at the high school.  Note the trickle of water flowing from the spout.
Right:  Carrying water home from the pump.  20 liters of water weigh about 44 pounds.
Average Water Use in America (per person).  These are very round estimates, based on information from several sources, including Water Use at USGS .  Note that EACH DROP is equal to ONE GALLON of water.
Average Water Use in Mozambique (per person).  These estimates are based on my own personal
experience in Mozambique, and would vary from one person to another.  Note that EACH DROP
is equal to ONE CUP of water.
Because the water drops in the previous illustrations symbolize different volumes (1 gallon versus 1 cup), I made this second graph to show a direct comparison between water use in Mozambique and water use in the United States.
This graph, entitled WORLD WATER USE, is from World Mapper.  According to the description, four thousand cubic kilometers of water are used by people each year around the world.   On the map, the size of the territory is proportional to the amount of water consumed by the countries of that region.

Monday, August 6, 2012


It is fascinating to learn the extent to which Mozambican cuisine has been impacted by the presence of the Portuguese colonialists.  In fact, most "traditional" foods in modern-day Mozambique include or consist entirely of ingredients that were introduced after the sixteenth century.  Corn, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, sugarcane, and cassava were all imported to Africa from Europe and the Americas.  Garlic, chili peppers, sweet peppers, and rice were introduced by the Portuguese, as well.   All told, these foods make up the bulk of the Mozambican diet and are key players in the industry of agriculture.  Since most Mozambicans are involved in farming (around 80%), these crops play a very real role in every day life.  

To better understand food in Mozambique, let's take a look at the diet of a Peace Corps Volunteer.  What do Volunteers eat? What do Mozambicans eat?  Are there any surprises?  We'll start with a trip to the market.

At the market

These are all items found in the marketplace between the months of March and August.  Some foods, like okra and collard greens, are seasonal.  Others, like tomatoes, eggs, bread, and beans, are available year-round.  A few items, like green peppers, onions, and bananas, seem to go through recurring phases.  

The staple of the Mozambican diet, corn, is not actually pictured amongst the images above.  This is because the most popular food in Mozambique is grown, not sold.  Four in every five Mozambican families grow their own corn, which, in turn, accounts for more than one-third of the total land involved in agriculture.   

Now that we know which ingredients are available, we can start cooking.  First, let's make some xima.  Xima acts as a base for almost every Mozambican meal.  In the words of Zachariah-- "A person who is accustomed to eating xima will only want to eat xima for the rest of his life."

Cooking on the charcoal stove

Xima (also called massa or nsima) is a type of porridge made with water and corn flour.  The process of making xima actually begins in the field, where dried corn is picked, shucked, and left to soak.  The hardened kernels are soaked for two days, then laid out to dry.  Once dried, they are brought to the mill, ground into powder, and laid out (again) to dry in the sun.  Finally, after three days of labor, the corn flour is ready to be made into xima.

How to Cook Xima
  • Heat water in a large pot.  The water is ready when it is hot, but not boiling. 
  • Slowly stir one cup of corn flour into the pot of hot water
  • Once the porridge mixture is smooth (no lumps), cover the pot and let it sit for five minutes on high heat.  The mixture will thicken and start to "jump"
  • Slowly stir in more corn flour.  Add flour until the mixture is thick and hard to paddle.  
  • Remove from heat.  Using a wooden paddle, spoon xima patties onto a plate.  
Each xima patty will develop a tough, outer skin.  Inside, they should have the consistency of mashed potatoes.  

Adding corn flour to the xima mixture
Like mashed potatoes, but with the faint aftertaste of corn

Now that we've made xima, let's make a relish.  Xima is usually served with two side dishes.  My favorite is a simple one.  We eat this almost every day, usually with curry powder.

Collard Greens in Oil
  • Chop onions and saute until brown
  • Slice collard greens into 3mm strips.  Add to the sautéed onions
  • Add chopped tomatoes and salt 
  • Serve hot
The typical Mozambican meal is eaten with the hands.  Hands are first washed in a bowl of warm water, then shaken dry.  The nsima is rolled in the palm of the hand and then dipped into the relish.  

Xima and Relish

The following pictures tell another story-- the story of our experience with food, here in Mozambique.  Not all of the dishes are Mozambican, of course, but every single one was made using ingredients found right here in Tete Province.

Collard greens are known as couve
Couve is chopped into thin strips and then boiled or sautéed with onions 
Cucumbers are downright wicked in Mozambique.  These barbs rip through
plastic bags and are actually tough enough to puncture the skin
Cucumber is usually prepared in a salad.  This cucumber is "de-barbed"
and served with lemon juice, salt, and red pepper
Papaya from the yard.  One of many fresh fruit options in Mozambique.
Other fruits (not pictured) include:  bananas, tangerines, and mangos.
Breakfast:  Two eggs, paozinho (little bread), banana, tangerines, and black tea.  We make this meal every single day.
Lunch:  Green peppers, onions, macaroni, and hot dogs.  After discovering frozen hot dogs in Tete City,
Dan and I have been eating a lot of this makeshift "sausage and peppers" meal.
Dinner:  Quesadillas with homemade guacamole.  This is a rare treat.  Cheese comes from the city and doesn't last very long.  Avocados are common, cheap, and huge but are only in season for a few short weeks.

Finally, I leave you with one final category:  Extra-Special Wintertime Treats.  While traditional cuisine in Mozambique tends to be fairly bland and predictable (corn flour and tomatoes), there are some dishes that might surprise you.  Two notable examples from this week's trip to the marketplace include:  Green Bugs and Dried Mice.

Green Bugs:  15 cents per clump.  When choosing your handful of bugs, it is best to choose bugs with green-colored bellies.  Bugs with dark bellies, apparently, are stuffed with urine and are liable to "pop sour" in your mouth.  Bugs should be boiled first, then fried in oil.  
Dried Mice on a Stick:  30 cents per stick.  Any Mozambican vendor will be sure to remind you
that these are field mice, not house mice.  House mice are considered dirty, whereas bush mice
 are just considered "meat."  Apparently, you must first boil the mice in water to remove the fur.
Dead Mice on a Stick

Bon Appetit!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Explaining Disney World

Now that Zachariah is back in town, he has been spending a lot of time over at our house.  Yesterday, he spent about 45 minutes examining the pictures on our walls and asking questions about the things that he was seeing.

"This," he said, examining a picture of a swimming pool at summer camp.  "Is this the sky or the ocean?"

Kennolyn Camps, Santa Cruz, California

The answer, of course, is neither.  But how is he supposed to know that this is a heated and chlorinated swimming pool in the mountains of Santa Cruz?

"It's a swimming pool," I said.  "In California.  I used to work there."

"How wonderful," he said.

"It was," I said.  Thankfully, he didn't ask me more about the summer camp.  I don't know how I would have explained the high ropes or the climbing wall.

Next, he approached a picture of my grandparents holding a 20-pound Butterball turkey.

"Did your Grandparents slaughter this large, gigantic bird?"  He asked.

American Thanksgiving

The answer, of course, again is "no".  They bought it at the grocery store, where it came frozen and wrapped in a plastic bag.  The clerk even gave my grandmother a second plastic bag, just to carry it home.

As we sorted through my pictures, one by one, I realized just how different our lives have really been.  While Zachariah was herding goats and walking five miles to school, I was begging for a hamster and running to catch the school bus.  While he was carving wooden tops out of pumpkins and corn cobs, I was watching my brother wreck a $75 Air Jump RC Car in a puddle on our driveway.

Trying to explain myself (and trying to explain America) was fascinating.  It was as if I was seeing my own culture for the first time.  We looked through picture after picture, wrapped up in the stories behind each individual shot.

Finally, we came upon a picture of the Epcot Ball at Disney World.  It was nighttime in the photo, and the ball looked almost surreal in the yellow-and-purple lighting, floating above the gardens at the front of the park.

Epcot Ball and Cinderella's Castle, Walt Disney World, Florida

"Where is this?"  Asked Zachariah.

I paused, trying to decide how to answer.  “This is in Disney World,” I said.

“What is Disney World?”

"Well, it's a kind of park."

"Like Kruger National Park?"

“….no.  It’s a different kind of park.  It’s a park with… exhibits.”

“Like a science fair?”

“…no.  It’s an amusement park.  It has rides.”

“Rides?  Rides that give you amusement?”


"How many rides are there?"


The conversation continued like this for a while as I tried to explain the concept of Disney World.  For Zachariah, who grew up digging potatoes, herding goats, and picking peas, it was nearly unimaginable.  He found it especially difficult to process the idea of Cinderella's Castle.  It was hard to imagine, he said, that nobody was living in this 18-story castle.

"So big," he mused.

"But empty," I said.

It's interactions like this that make me realize that America does have a culture.  It's hard to pin down, exactly, but an American culture does exist.  Looking through my photographs, I saw countless examples:  cotton candy, Christmas lights, Coney Island.  Dip n'Dots, Disney World, Dollar Menus, drive-in theaters. Some things were easy to explain to Zachariah, while other things were a little more difficult.  More than once, I had to stop and ask myself, "Why do we do that, anyway?"

In the end, I realized that while I miss home, it's good for me to be away for a while.  I'm learning more about my culture by stepping away from it than I ever learned while living engrossed.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


I've found it very difficult to make friends here in Mozambique.  This is due to several, overlapping reasons:

  1. Cultural Differences
Mozambican women tend to think that I am strange and unfeminine.  Also, they don't really understand why I am here.  As an healthy adult female, I should be at home with my family in America, taking care of my elders and raising children.  The fact that I am not is highly abnormal.

     2.  Language Barriers

Most people actually speak Nyungue, not Portuguese, at home.  In addition, most of our neighbors are uncomfortable conversing in Portuguese for a long period of time.

     3.  Gender Inequality

It would be inappropriate for me to develop a close friendship with a man, and there are very few women teachers at my school with whom I can strike up a relationship.  All of the women teachers (there are three, out of a total of thirty staff members) have families and children of their own.  See Point #1.

Dan and I have been making slow and steady progress, however, in defining our relationships with the people around us.  Our relationships can be broken into three different "zones":

Occupants of the Red Zone include:
1.  The boy who steals from us  (four eggs, one ankle brace, one flea collar, and one wooden spoon, to date)
2.  Dog killers and dog beaters (still at loose and on the prowl...)

Occupants of the Yellow Zone include:
1.  Our waterboy, Seni.  He is often sullen and mad at us for no apparent reason.
Also, can you ever truly be friends with your 15-year-old housekeeper?
2.  The kids of the neighborhood.  They are funny and lovable, but all
under seven years old.  And they don't speak Portuguese...
3.  Our other waterboy, Romao.  Again, we aren't sure if we would consider
ourselves to be Romao's "friends" or simply his employers.

Occupants of the Green Zone include:
1.  Bwino, of course.  Our dog is our best friend here in Mozambique.
2.  Zachariah.  Friendly, intelligent, and English-speaking
3.  Our eighth-grade students.  250 cheerful, funny little kids who make us laugh.  

Since the beginning of the third trimester, though, things have been picking up.  Dan's counterpart, a young teacher named Matenga, has invited us over for lunch.  Another staff member has asked to come over and play guitar.  Best of all (in terms of our social life), our friend Zachariah is back in town.  Technically "between jobs," Zachariah is living with his parents in the countryside while he looks into options for higher education.  This means that he comes over three of four times a week, appearing unexpectedly at our doorstep at any hour of the day.  Usually, he will bring his cell phone and chat with us for an hour or two while he waits for it to recharge.

Here is my honest assessment of our social situation here in Mozambique:  Building friendships has been a slow and difficult process, but this process has been improving steadily with a lot of hard work.  The main thing that we struggle with is the feeling of being used.  It's hard for us to tell who actually likes us and who wants to use us for something.  People seem to be drawn to us but always, inevitably, ask us for something.  Few people ask us about our lives in America and no one has ever asked us about own personal interests.  I've never had so much trouble making friends in my life, and sometimes I just want to give up and be invisible.  Wouldn't it be easier, I wonder, to just sit and read a book?

However.  The trouble that we go through, in the end, will make each individual friendship that much more valuable.  So, here's to making friends and forging relationships-- the toughest part of the "Toughest Job You'll Ever Love."

Raise a glass to friendship