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

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