Monday, July 22, 2013


Boneca [Port.] (bo-nay-cah):  A small doll or figurine, usually representing a baby or other human being, especially for use as a child's toy.  

In Mozambique, little boys like to create cars out of garbage and build make-shift weapons. Their play, in general, is competitive (war games, sports) or focused on control (wheels, cars). Little girls, on the other hand, choose themes like play-kitchen, play-laundry, or play-mothering. Their play tends to mimic the actions of their mothers, aunts, and older sisters. 

Play-mothering is the most common form of make-believe, and involves the use of a boneca (doll).  In Zobue, a doll can be anything from a used stuffed animal to a clay figurine to a plastic bottle.  Most girls will tie up their bonecas in a capulana and go about their daily tasks, mirroring their mothers.  

It's adorable.  

The original capulana baby, also included in last year's Toys
A baby bear, cared for lovingly
A baby buffalo
Jovita and her baby rhino
Gilda and her second-hand doll 
Tabita and her clay doll (named Jovita, after her sister)
Tabita swaddles her boneca 
Feta and her clay doll (modeled after sister Tabita)
Bonita and her clay boneca
Alzira and her clay boneca

While clay-babies and bottle-babies are the easiest to make, stuffed animals and baby dolls are cherished and cared for with a deeper devotion and for a longer duration.  After all, a clay-baby can be smooshed and rebuilt again.  A stuffed baby animal is practically real.

And just as used clothing makes it way to Africa, used toys can be found for sale, too.  I've seen headless pandas, threadbare puppets, and broken Barbies swaddled and cared for and treated like new.  Little girls have a strong capacity for imagination and tender compassion.  

Realistically, this is where Woody the Cowboy and his gang ended up.  Such renewal and second-hand love make a much more touching (and accurate) ending for the Toy Story series.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Winter Weather

Winter-weather fancy sweater on a little boy
A peaked hood!
Yarn baby

It's cold in Mozambique.

It's not a Pennsylvania cold.  It's not a cold-snap in Chicago, windy San Francisco, ice-chunks in the ocean kind of cold.  It's not a zip-up-the-boots, scrape-off-the-windshield, start-up-the-car-and-shiver kind of cold.

It's different.  

It's the kind of cold that brings out the blankets and keeps you in bed.  The kind of cold that kills all of the mosquitos.  The kind of cold that seeps in through the cracks of a gusty house and inches along the bare cement.   It's a sneaky kind of cold.  A little cold.  All the time.  

It's not about the actual temperature (between 40 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, for the record). It's more about the fact that cold weather is inescapable. Because there is no central heating, buildings are open and drafty, and people spend most of their time outside, the cold simply permeates.  

This is actually Dan's favorite season.  He finds it to be invigorating.  I, on the other hand, side with the Mozambicans.  On any given winter morning, I can be found wearing two sweaters, three pairs of pants, and a thick pair of gloves like everyone else.  I hate being cold.  

Here are some pictures of little Mozambicans (and big Mozambicans) feeling cold, just like me.  

Little boy with a bear-ears sweater
Mid-day hoodie hood-up
Lurdes wrapped in a capulana
(the pouting is directed towards her older sister, who tugged on her braid)
Little boys show off their stuffed bear and their (somewhat haphazard)
winter-weather outfits
Babies get super-bundled in the wintertime.  This one is just wearing a sweater,
diaper, socks, and a hat, but I've seen babies with up to five layers of clothing.
Wishing that he'd worn a sweater
Sometimes winter-wear is well put-together...
...and sometimes it's just multiple outfits, worn at the same time.
This little girl is bundled up in vibrant pink
This little boy (yes, he's a boy) is also wearing pink
This is what happens to winter coats in areas with dirt, but not snow
Another pink winter coat
Amilcar and Florinda have matching pink hats
This hat is made of yarn and beads
Shana goes to school in her thug-cap
In an adorable (but very old) corduroy coat 
Using a capulana to keep warm
This guy is well-protected against the 60-degree weather
Antoninho at his shop
Jorge at his shop
In a hoodie, coming home from school

In the midst of the winter season, school runs at half-attendance between 7 and 9AM.  In the words of the students, the weather is simply "too cold" to abide.  Those students who do arrive for their first few classes come bundled up with turtle-neck sweaters and winter hats.  They actually write assignments with ski-gloves on their fingers.

In terms of temperature, an African winter is nothing like an American winter.  There's no snow, for one thing, or ice or sleet or sludge.  But without central heating, cold is cold is cold.  And a 40-degree house is a cold house, indeed, no matter where you're from.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Salad Dressing

Normally, I don't care for salad.  I don't like lettuce, really.  It's endless and watery and really kind of tasteless. 

But then, this weekend, one of my students brought me a gift.  With a giant grin on her face, she hefted a black plastic bag up the steps of my veranda and dropped it into my arms.  

"Great!"  I said.  "Thanks!"  Then, trailing off, I examined the contents of the bag. "Thaaaanks," I repeated, more slowly this time.  

It was no less than five pounds of lettuce. 

I'll admit that my first reaction was to give it all away.  I heaped greens upon my neighbors, offering multiple bunches to multiple families, days and days in a row.  But there's only so much lettuce that you can give to your neighbors before they reach a point of saturation.  I gave away a good four pounds before I realized that I had no choice but to eat the rest myself. 

Unfortunately, this meant... salad. 


Making a salad in Mozambique is a real bother.  Everything needs to be rinsed and bleached and then rinsed again.  Considering the fact that I don't even like salad, that seems like a lot of work for a big pile of leaves.

The good news is, though, that everything is organic.  All vegetables are organic and fresh and grown locally, by default. So a Mozambican salad is healthy, even if it's slightly bleachy and a real pain to make.

Fresh, local, and cheap

But even the freshest, juiciest salad is kind of bland without dressing.  And I had no way of procuring dressing whilst at site in Mozambique.

I had no choice but to sit and think.

Until that point, it had never occured to me that I could make my own salad dressing.  To me, salad dressing was one of those things that only came pre-packaged.  Like Twinkies.  Or cereal.  Certain, things, I thought, simply couldn't be made by the average, normal person.

Apparently, I was wrong.

A quick scan of the Internet revealed thousands of recipes, from the complicated "Basil-Walnut-Lemon Juice Puree" to the rather more reasonable "Simple Vinaigrette."

After a few minutes in the kitchen and some vague experimentation, I am proud to admit that I produced my own first-ever homemade salad dressing.  And it was pretty good.

A simple salad dressing using only five ingredients

Though this recipe could be added to or detracted from at whim, the basics of this dressing are as follows:

Simple Salad Dressing

1 part white vinegar
2 parts oil
A pinch of pepper
A pinch of salt
A fat squeeze from a honey bear, smuggled from the States

Combine ingredients in an old jar and shake.  Ta-da!  A simple salad dressing.

The final product

Really, it's quite good.

We've since eaten through the pound of lettuce, and gone to buy another.  I wouldn't say that I love salad, but I've become more open-minded.  The dressing, I'll admit, covers up the taste of bleach.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Rabies Vaccines

The rabies virus is frightening because of the swiftness and effectiveness with which it kills. Once evident in the victim, the disease progresses quickly and results in the same inevitable conclusion-- death.  With very few exceptions in a few highly-developed countries, rabies is invariably fatal.

In the United States, rabies is not a pressing concern.  On average, the virus only kills about two individuals per year. Because post-exposure treatment is readily available, pet-vaccination programs are firmly established, and the public is well-informed, Americans are highly unlikely to contract rabies in their lifetime.  

In some countries of the world, the disease is even less of a concern.

Rabies has been completely eradicated in Australia, New Zealand and Japan.  It has been virtually eradicated in the British Isles, Scandanavia, and most island nations around the world. In Switzerland, scientists innoculated the last wild source of the virus (foxes) using vaccine-laden chicken heads.  In terms of disease control, things seem to be progressing well.

Unfortunately, rabies still kills about 55,000 people annually.  About 95% of these deaths occur in Asia and Africa.  In the past six months alone, there have been at least two human mortalities from our corner of Mozambique.  One was a teenage girl who died from rabies in Tete City in March.  The other was the cousin of a teacher at our school, who died last week in Mwanza.  In the seven years between 2004 and 2011, 287 Mozambicans died from the disease. 

Because 97% of cases are caused by dog bites, Mozambique has placed a lot of emphasis on disease control in domestic dog populations.  Luckily, there is a dog vaccination program in place in Zobue.  All dogs over six months of age are eligible, and vaccinations are free. Innoculation is highly encouraged.  Last Thursday, Dan and I waited with Bwino, Piro, and about thirty other dogs to receive rabies vaccinations from the Department of Agriculture.  We waited for more than three hours, but our venture was ultimately successful.

In theory, a vaccination rate of 60% should be enough to control an outbreak of the disease. But with a turn-over rate of 25% in a town with thousands of dogs, achieving such numbers is no easy task.  Thankfully, there are some-- like the cooler-toting Mama with her sterile rubber gloves-- who work hard to realize their vision of a healthier Mozambique.  

A boy with his dog on a homemade leash.
Dogs like this one, from rural areas, are more likely to contract the disease.
A boy carries his dog to get vaccinated against rabies
A man shows off his puppy on vaccination day
Two sisters
A homemade leash
A proud boy and his puppy
Bwino waits with Dan for his yearly rabies vaccine
A crowd of people wait for their dogs to receive a yearly vaccination
Piro gets his shot

Monday, July 8, 2013

Basketball Court (Part II)

Back to work.  

The basketball court has been progressing slowly, but definitively.  It is officially dry season (by a matter of weeks), which means that the ground is now hard, packed, and ready to go.  Work on the court is beginning in earnest, and should continue quickly from here on out.

Phases I and II (April):  Dan bought 150 sacks of cement, 540 iron bars, 14 iron poles, basketball hoops, and materials to build a home-made backboard.   All materials were stored without incident in the school's teacher's lounge.

Phase III (July):  The court-building crew began taking formal measurements to lay out the size and shape of the basketball court.  Working with a contractor, the school director, 20-odd school children, and two eager puppies, Dan pounded four rebar markers into the corners of what will soon be our very own Zobue "Campo de Basquetebol."

Figures of Interest

Days left in Service:  136 (until November 21, 2013)
Total Cost of Iron:  46,600 Meticais (US $1,550)
Cost of Iron Transport:  5,000 Meticais (US $166)
Total Cost of Building Materials (Cement and Iron):  96,100 Meticais (US $3,200)
Total Cost of Transport (Cement and Iron):  12,000 Meticais (US $400)
Total Extraneous Costs (Hoops and Wood):  6,000 Meticais (US $200)
Remaining Funds:  35,500 Meticais (US $1,200)*

Contributions from the School

Land Donated:  Free (US $0.00)
Bricks for Foundation:  Paid for by the students (US $0.50 donated per student)
Rocks for Foundation:  Delivered by the students (Five large rocks per student)
Sand for Fountation:  Delivered by the students (150 pounds per student)
Half of Builder's Contract:  Free (Would be US $500)

*Remaining funds will be used to pay the welder, carpenter, and the other half of the builder's contract.  Extra remaining funds go towards paint and uniforms!

Dan takes measurements at the site of the basketball court
Using rebar and string to visualize the area of the basketball court