Thursday, October 31, 2013

24. Professor Seni

Here is Seni teaching "school" to the neighborhood kids.  

His lessons include mathematics (addition), reading (the alphabet), art (drawing pictures), and physical education (mostly just stretching and running in place, which then degenerates into a push-up contest).  The kids love Professor Seni and they love to sit for lessons.   

Seni's enthusiasm for teaching is more than just adorable.  It's useful, and it's proof that some people are innately good and altruistic.  Seni has the heart and soul of a teacher, a trait which is golden and so, so important for the future of this developing country.

Art Class
Physical Education
Independent Classwork
Story time
Elections for Class President

This is reason #689 why we love Seni.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

25. The Praying Mantis

I was in the middle of my weekly phone call with my grandmother when a praying mantis ran full-speed across the living room floor.  Startled, I actually interrupted the conversation to describe what I was seeing.  

"It looks like a rat!"  I said.  "It's the size of my hand!  No... sorry.... it's just.... you should see this bug!"  

And I wasn't even exaggerating.  It was the most substantial insect that I had ever seen.  It was larger than a lemon and clearly very heavy.  It looked like a cartoon gangster's cigar.

The praying mantis darted across the dusty floor, and vanished through the open grate.  I watched it go, amused and pleased.  

"What a cool sighting," I thought to myself.  And I assumed that that was that.

But the next part was even better.  

The praying mantis.  In Portuguese, it's a louva-a-deus (or a Praise to God)

Ten minutes later, the dogs found the mantis.  Bwino pawed at it while Piro started whining.  They ran this way and that, feinting and retreating to approach from all sides.  Instead of running away, however, the mantis stood her ground.  The insect cocked her two forearms and took an immediate offensive stance.  

The dogs worked themselves into a frenzy, and started to bark and snap at the bug.  The mantis swayed from left to right, hopping and ducking and dancing like a boxer.  With her forearms curled up in a fighting position, she looked like a little green cobra.  Then, suddenly, with her head bent down low and her front pinchers raised, she dealt one, two, three punches to the tip of Piro's nose.  The dog squealed and leapt backwards, shaking his head in shock and surprise.

The mantis hopped onto the ledge and stared down at the dogs, still swaying and waving her two little fists.  She looked more like a cobra than ever.  The dogs whined and sat on their bottoms, and the mantis hopped away into the night.  

Seni and Romao were doubled over with glee.  

"That bug just punched Piro in the nose!"  They fell over each other, laughing and waving and socking the air.  "It punched him in the nose!  Piro fought a bug and lost!"
In "cobra mode"

I, on the other hand, was impressed.  Had that mantis really just imitated a cobra?  Was that normal and documented behavior?  Or was it simply a coincidence?

Chance mimicry?

At the very least, the praying mantis had single-handedly defended himself from not one, but two attacking dogs.  It was a interesting encounter. 

The praying mantis versus Bwino and Piro.  African wildlife for the win!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

26. The Feeding Frenzy

For the past week or so, my days have been spent agonizing over the allotment of junk.  As I gut each and every room of our little yellow house, I encounter piles and piles of questionable things—half broken pencils, dusty erasers, out-of-date calendars, shredded socks, worn-out shoes—and I sigh and simply put them aside.  These are the objects that have accrued naturally over the past two years, and it’s time for them to go. 

It isn’t fair for me to leave these things for the next volunteers (they’ll have their own stuff, after all), nor does it make sense for me to carry it all to the new house.  So the only place for it to go is out.  I have to give it all away.

The thing is, this process is different in Mozambique.  I can’t simply pack a box and leave it at the back door of the nearest ‘Goodwill’ drop-off.   The patrons of the Salvation Army live directly on my doorstep, and I have to look them in the eye and decide which family deserves to receive every specific object.  It’s more exhausting and controversial than I would have originally assumed.

Trash management has always been an interesting subject in Zobue (In a stroke of brilliant luck, my province-mate Helen just wrote a post about a very similar issue).  We throw our trash into a large pit in our yard, where it gets sorted and stolen by large flocks of children who rush in, squabble, bop each other, and make off like bandits with armfuls of junk.  Less than five minutes after every basket of trash has been dumped, the bottom of the trash pit is scraped bone-dry and dusty.  This recycling process is useful, but it also means that we have to be cautious about the items that we toss into our cova.  There is a sorting system for every item that isn’t paper or food or otherwise completely benign.  Is it broken glass and some other dangerous object?  It goes into the latrine.   It is a pair of ripped jeans or some other worried bit of clothing?  It should be given as a gift.  Electronics?  Should be saved.  Old medicines?  Saved.  Batteries?  Saved.   

Unfortunately, this process of careful sorting (and some additional hoarding) means that we’ve acquired a backlog of goods that now need to be attended to.

We’ve been organizing every item into one of five specific categories:  Dangerous Junk, Trash Pit Junk, Special Junk, Stuff to Keep for the Next Volunteers, and Bring Back to the States.  It’s a dirty and time-consuming process, but one that ultimately respects both the newest group of incoming volunteers and the neighbors that we love.

Here is a breakdown of each of the five categories:

Dangerous Junk (5% of total):  Expired medicines, insecticides, glass, rusty items, batteries.  These items are either thrown into the latrine, packed for Maputo, or just brought to the new house (out of sheer desperation).  This is the most stressful category, in terms of guilt and environmental consciousness. 

Trash Pit Junk (40% of total):  Old test papers, broken dinnerware, ripped clothes, used notebooks, dry pens, battered boxes.  In American terms, this is the "garbage" category.  These items are bundled into our trash basket (a giant, grass-woven cesto) and heaved into the hole in our front yard.  This creates a bit of a mini-frenzy amongst the kids, and all of the trash is immediately hauled out and whisked away for playtime.

Special Junk (15% of total):   Old clothes, half-used notebooks, folders, American toys, unused school prizes, duplicate items.  Without really meaning to, Dan and I have accrued a lot of really nice things.  We bear some 50 clear plastic folders, 16 used notebooks, 8 rulers, 7 clipboards, 4 hairbrushes, and 130 blue pens, along with countless other toys and prizes accrued throughout the years.  As the fourth generation of prolific volunteers, we've inherited more than our share of bens maravilhosos.   Unfortunately, it’s just too much.  The "Special Junk" pile serves a special purpose, allowing us to organize parting presents for our friends and neighbors, while simultaneously ensuring that the next volunteers will not be overwhelmed with tons of duplicate items.

Stuff to Keep for the Next Volunteers (30% of total):  Empty notebooks, pristine folders, clean toys, nice books, fresh prizes, dishes, furniture, and appliances.  Only the best of the very best is being kept for the next volunteers.  They will be arriving with their own stuff from Maputo, and I don’t see any reason why they need to deal with my broken radio, ripped socks, or old, expired medicines.  I want the new house to be neat, trim, and tidy.  

Bring Back to the States (10% of total):  Clothes, electronic devices.  It is a very rare object that makes it into this final category.  Most of this pile is made up of the clothes that we will use for traveling.  One or two books have made it into the final cut, along with a few capulanas, an adaptor, two computers, a phone, and a camera.  And that’s it.  It’s amazing how, after two years in Africa, I’ve learned to boil down my possessions.  I am leaving here with only 5% of what I came here with.  

The neighborhood kids sift through the trash in the cova.  Note the little boy in yellow.
I don't know what he's playing with, but he's totally engrossed.
God and Agostinho show off their trash-pit treasures (mostly old teaching materials)
A few old stickers from the trash heap
Even little Razo found some prizes
The "Special Junk" pile.  Can you find:  A yellow duck, a lanyard, a wedding portrait, a deck of cards, three toothbrushes, a star-spangled T-shirt, four watches, a watercolor paint set, and two plastic hairbrushes?

The downside of this moving/waste disposal system is the ensuing junk-hysteria that it generates in our neighborhood.  Janet and Luc described it as a “feeding frenzy,” and they were absolutely correct.  I’ve seen the very worst of some of my colleagues and neighbors, as they beg me for stuff that they really don’t need or certainly do not deserve (my computer?  My phone?  My camera!?).  People who barely know me have been asking for lembran├žas left and right, from the shoes on my feet, to the hair on my head.  Again, Janet and Luc said it best when they mused,

“Do you really need a flash drive to remember me by?  Or do you simply want a flash drive?”

We’ve managed to cull some of the frenzy with a system of directed giving.  We’ve made a list of all of our immediate neighbors (56 in total), and allotted a special object to every single person.  We made a personal visit to each of the families, and gave out our “presents” one by one, to every person that we've gotten to know.  Dan called it the A’zungu Christmas.

The presents might have been strange by American standards, but our neighbors were so pleased!  Madalitso received a broken umbrella.  Elias got a toothbrush (still in the original package!)  Dona Gilda got a sweater.  Dona Anabella got a thermos and a blanket. 

We managed to clean out most of our house through this method of dispersal, and please our neighbors in the process.  Some of our favorite objects were saved for favorite people (a dictionary for Seni, a mattress for Romao, a set of notebooks and an American flag for Leme), while most other, less familiar, individuals were left out of the loop.  We’ve learned to be quite strict when it comes to the allotment of lembran├žas, and, with some of the more insufferable beggars, we’ve started asking what they’ll give us, instead. 

“After all,” we say.  “We’ve lived here and taught here for two years of our lives!  We taught English and math and technology, gave community computer lessons, and built a basketball court for the town!  What are you going to give to us!?”

“Well, nothing, professora…” they say, digging a toe in the dirt.  “Just friendship and kind words.”

“And the same from me to you,” we say.  “We wish you all the best! We will remember you fondly, always.”

“Wait, wait,” they call, yelling after us as we start to walk away.  “But I just want one flash drive.  Just one little tiny flash drive!”

It’s a feeding frenzy, for sure.  And an awfully fine line to walk. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

27. Quinta Monte Zobue

Once a week for the past two years, Dan and I went out to eat at the only restaurant in town- Quinta Monte Zobue.  

We would order and share a large beer (a 23 oz. Manica Grande) and then ask for two plates of chicken-- one with xima and tomate mole and the other with salada and batatas fritas.  Food always took more than an hour to arrive, but that was okay.  We would just sit in the gazebo, look out over the mountain, and sip our lukewarm Manica, talking or grading papers or playing cards on the table.  

Our neighbors didn't get it.  People in Zobue don't "go out" for dinner, so our habits were strange.  Dan and I were almost always the only patrons at the restaurant, but we preferred it that way.  Ironically, going out to eat was one of the only ways that we managed to find some privacy.  

We loved that little restaurant.

It's strange-- we're leaving soon, and going back to the land of McDonald's and Wendy's and Olive Garden and Red Lobster.  We're returning to the land of the Chinese buffet, to the land of Indian restaurants.  We will be able to get five dollar pizzas at Cici's buffet whenever we want.  We will be able to get almost any meal we want, whenever we want.  But some part of us will always miss the pretty little restaurant that only offered chicken.  

A view of the restaurant, with Monte Zobue in the background
Dan in the gazebo, waiting for his food
A Manica Grande.  Mozambican beers generally come in fat and reusable 23 oz. bottles,
a fact that makes American beers look wasteful and downright puny.
Golden Manica
Um quarto frango com batatas fritas e salada
Bwino likes it, too

Sunday, October 27, 2013

28. Basketball Court (Part VI)

After two years, one hundred and fifty thousand Meticais, 150 bags of cement, two tons of metal, and hours and hours and hours of labor (from Dan, the school director, a whole team of welders, a whole team of laborers, and Leme-- an unbelievably driven counterpart), the basketball court FINALLY looks like a basketball court!  

With just two weeks remanescente, everything is finally coming together in a grand and charismatic way.  The goal posts were finished this week and inserted onto either side of the concrete court, adding a finishing touch to the now-completed foundation.  All that's left to do is to pave the surface of the court itself.  

Dan is so happy to see that the court finally looks real and substantial.  All of Zobue is getting more and more excited to see the project near completion.

At the welder's:  Inspecting the finished goalposts
A closer view of the backboard:  Iron placards reinforced with central wooden beams
A closer view of the soldering between the iron posts
The School Director poses for a picture with one of the basketball rims
The welder puts the finishing touches on one of the two backboards
At the welder's:  Testing the sturdiness of the large (and dangerously heavy) goalposts
At the construction site:  A team of students and community members insert the first goalpost
At the construction site:  The completed foundation and two matching goalposts.
It finally looks like a real basketball court!
Seni works on his jump shot.  Just a little short...
Dan poses with one of the two finished goalposts.  The rims, which are currently in storage,
will be inserted onto the backboard as part of the Opening Day celebration.

With just two weeks left in Zobue, Dan and I are hoping that we can see the project through to the end.  It's been wonderful to watch this dream unfold and come true for the whole town!

Friday, October 25, 2013

29. The Moving Day

Today was the first of many moving days, wherein half the neighborhood helped carry boxes, bed frames, pillows, blankets, and all of our various accoutrements to our new house, 8 minutes away.  

We had twenty-two helpers to help carry items, which meant that some of the kids were holding no more than one blanket or notebook or bed-slab apiece.  All of our household materials floated down the path in an effortless parade.  I've never experienced such an easy moving experience!  Or one quite so gradual.  We'll be doing this every day for the next week or so.

The first shipment went perfectly, except for one little problem.  Halfway through the parade of little feet, one of the kids spotted Nyau.  The cultural dancers (three of them) were running along the edge of the corn fields, covered in mud and swinging a few sets of rusty machetes.  The sighting led to a massive panic amongst the kids, who immediately dropped their boxes and fled back into the neighborhood.   All of our household possessions laid strewn about the path for a good ten to fifteen minutes while I went to search for and coax the scattered little ones out of hiding.  Luckily, nothing was lost.  The Nyau passed without further incident, and the kids recollected their boxes.  Glancing behind them as they ran, they clutched the items to their chests and high-tailed it in the direction of the new house.  The final leg was done at a sprint.

The bichos were nowhere to be seen as we made our way back home, but the kids all held hands with me and each other, walking extra-quickly with sharp eyes "in case." 

The moving parade
At the new house
Holding hands on the way home (Photo credit:  The kids)

I really can't blame them for being so scared.  What six-year old wouldn't be terrified to spot these creatures on the path?

The Nyau in mud dress (Photo Credit:  Vlad Sokhin)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

30. The Angolano

Down along the road, in an aging concrete house, lives the famous Angolano.  

He was born in Angola in 1923, into a semi-wealthy family of Portuguese colonialists.  He met his African wife, Helena, while working internationally, and fell in love with her immediately.  She was 18 years old.  He was nearly fifty.  They got married in Mozambique, had eight children in succession, and have been here ever since.  They've been married now for over 40 years.  

The Angolano and his Dona are some of our favorite people in Zobue.  Their stories are fascinating, and they're such wonderful company.  We make sure to visit often, but only when we have ample time to sit and talk (and listen).

The Angolano and his wife

Our conversations are usually circular and repetitive, but always entertaining. Today, I sat down with the family for an hour while Dan was away.  The couple greeted me with their usual enthusiasm, and launched into a giddy and one-sided exchange.

For the sake of amusement and clarification, here is a sample of our conversation:

The Dona:  Ahh!  (Claps hands)  It's you!  My friend!
The Angolano:  Ehh.  Who's that?  Is that my grand-daughter?
Me:  Good afternoon, Dona.  Good afternoon, Senhor.  
The Angolano:  Ehh.  Come over here and say hello.
The Dona:  I told you that they didn't leave for good.  I told you so.  
The Angolano:  Don't you kids go away with out saying goodbye to us.  
The Dona:  They won't go away without saying goodbye!
The Angolano:  I didn't say that they would!  I was just telling them!
The Dona:  Well, they won't.
The Angolano:  I'm just making sure. (To me)  Don't you go away without saying goodbye.
The Dona:  She heard you the first time.
Me:  We won't.  We promise.  
The Dona:  See that?  She promised.  She's a good girl.  
Me:  Thank you.
The Dona:  What are you doing these days?  You look so fat and happy!  Do you have a baby in that belly?
Me:  No... 
The Dona:  You are going to have so many little babies!  I can just feel it.  
Me:  Oh.  Thanks...
The Dona:  You have to come back and visit when you have your babies.  
Me:  Okay.
The Dona:  When you come back, we'll cut our yard in half and give the second half to you.  
Me:  Oh.  That's a very nice offer...
The Dona:  And you will open up a preschool and care for the orphaned children.  
Me:  Oh.  Okay...
The Dona:  Aiiii!  The poverty, the poverty.  Problems with money.  
Me:  Yes...
The Dona:  Thieves.  Thieves and robbers.  Do you know what they did?
Me:  No, what?
The Dona:  They entered my yard and murdered my poor dog.  Beat her to death with a stick.  Sold all of her parts to make medicines for the witch doctors and nguli-ngulis.  
Me:  Oh, that's horrible.
The Dona:  They beat my son with a katana.
Me:  Oh, gosh.  Is he all right!?
The Dona:  Of course he's not all right!  He's a useless alcoholic.  
Me:  Oh...
The Dona:  He married an old woman, you know.
Me:  Oh.  Did he?
The Dona:  She's 35 years old.  35!  He's 30.  She already has big grown-up children, but she's not giving him any babies.  I didn't ask her why.  
Me:  Gosh.
The Dona:  You look pretty.  So fat and happy.  (To her husband)  Old man, doesn't she look nice today?
The Angolano:  What?
The Dona:  Isn't she a pretty one?
The Angolano:  She's normal.  
The Dona:  Ehh, you don't know anything.  You're just an old man.  
The Angolano:  Ehhhhhh.
The Dona:  Work, work, work.  That's all I do.  I take care of this old man.  Look at me!  I'm getting old like him.  
The Angolano:  How long does it take to get to America?
Me:  By airplane?
The Dona:  I'm old and fat.  My husband is sick.  My good children are in Portugal.  The two sons that I have with me here are drunks.  
The Angolano:  By airplane.
Me:  About 20 hours, I guess.  If you go through Johannesburg.
The Dona:  What did I do to deserve these sons?  What bad luck.  
The Angolano:  Don't you leave without saying goodbye.
The Dona:  They're not going to leave without saying goodbye.  (To me) You're not going to leave without saying goodbye, are you?
Me:  No, of course not.  
The Dona:  I told you that they wouldn't.  (To me) You know, he doesn't like anybody but you.  He hates everybody.  
The Angolano:  I don't hate everybody.
The Dona:  You hate everybody.  You don't know what you're talking about.  
The Angolano:  Ehhhh, you know what?  You know what?  These two will get a phone call in America in December to tell them that the Angolano is dead.
Me:  Oh, no.  Are you feeling sick?
The Angolano:  (leans back and closes his eyes)
The Dona:  (To me) You are going to have so many little babies!  I can just feel it!  

... and so on and so forth.  

What funny and wonderful people!  Dona Helena has been a bit of a grandmother to me, and it will be hard to leave her.  We promised to send the next visitors down to her house to visit, but she shook her head indignantly.  

"Not the same," she said.  "Not the same.  You're the best ones, you two are."

Me and Dona Helena

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

31. The Host Family

In theory, all Peace Corps volunteers should have a host family.  Host families help new volunteers adjust to the different culture, practice language skills, and offer insight into the volunteer's new community.  Host families can help ease the process of integration, laying down roots from which the new volunteer can start to build their social experience.   Such support can be a crucial and critical aspect of a new volunteer's social development.

Which is why living next to Dona Marcelina's family has been extra-double especially awful.  In addition to being our landlady, Dona Marcelina is also (technically) the head of our host family. Unfortunately, she has done nothing to make us feel welcome or to help us feel at home.  She only comes to see us when she needs her money, and the rest of the time, she's cold and distant. Her children steal from us and call us "the A'zungu," and her second son, Dashido, is the worst and least respectful student that Dan has ever taught.  I cannot imagine a more terrible host family for a set of incoming volunteers.  

That's why, as part of the process of switching houses, we've also decided to get a new "family."  We've asked Leme and his wife to act as a host family for the new volunteers-- to invite the volunteers into their house, to introduce them to the other teachers, or to just talk to them or watch a movie together-- and both Leme and his wife seemed honored by the request.  Leme, actually, was overtly excited.  

"Can I go to Chimoio and pick them up?"  He asked.  

"No..." said Dan.  "That's okay.  You can just meet them at the new house."

"Okay!"  Said Leme.  "Okay, I'll do it!"

So now the newest volunteers are getting a very large house, two loyal dogs, 8 years of good service in the name of their organization, and the single most wonderful host family in all of Mozambique.  

Oh, and all of the kids in town already know how to "pound it."  

On second thought, maybe I just won't leave.  I love it all too much.  

Leme plays with his daughter and his niece.  
Dan takes a walk with 2-year-old Marnela

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

32. The Last Day of School

Ever since the end of exams, the school has become a rollicking madhouse.  Nobody is teaching, and the kids are running wild.  

I managed to pull my classes together for fifteen minutes yesterday to make some final points.  I handed back final exams and answered any lingering questions.  I reminded them that I was leaving, and wrote my email address on the board.  Then, I surprised the kids with a small end-of-the-year "ceremony."  They absolutely loved it!  It was so different than anything that usually happens at school in Mozambique, and the kids were so happy and excited.  

I had spent half the morning gluing certificates onto every remaining sheet of scrapbook paper that I had brought with me from the States, adding stickers and signatures onto each one.  I also put together a motley collection of prizes that I had scraped together while cleaning up my house.  I made a certificate for almost every desirable trait-- good grades, good attendance, leadership, personal growth, cheerfulness, and good behavior-- and then handed them out to individual students within two giant groups of combined, sweaty classes.  I gave out more than 80 certificates in total, and the kids were so supportive!  Everybody clapped for everybody, and everyone was cheering.  The biggest moment was when I awarded the prizes for "Best Girl" and "Best Boy" in the grade.  The winners were absolutely showered with attention, and they deserved every minute of it.  

Things like this never really happen in Mozambique, so it was an overwhelmingly positive experience.  I made sure to include the kids that were in the middle of the pack, and reward them for the things that they thought had gone unnoticed.  For most of these kids, they were receiving their very first "certificate."

I left the school amidst a mass of cheers and waves and running feet.

"Bye, Tichal!"  Shouted the kids.  "See you laaay-taaaa!"

It was the perfect way to end my two years of teaching here in Mozambique.  

Monday, October 21, 2013

33. The New House

It's official.  

Peace Corps Zobue is changing houses.  

In light of the news that our replacements will not be another married couple (there are none, it seems, in this newest training group), our school administration decided that our current little house would just not be acceptable.  

Dan and I have been working closely with the other teachers to find and select larger and more suitable accomodations, and, after several weeks, we are proud to announce the final results.  Here it is in all its glory-- the giant new house of Peace Corps Zobue:

The new house!

The new house is about twice as large as our current residence, and includes three bedrooms, one storage room, one dining room, and one larger entryway.  There is an outdoor kitchen just off the porch, and separate latrines for men and for women (Bonus:  They're labeled in Chichewa-- A'muna and A'kazi).  The house is located about 10 minutes away from the school, and is in a gorgeous area at the edge of town.  The  yard is full of mango trees and planted eucalyptus, and is quiet and sprawling and peaceful and sweet.  

The news of the move became official today, when the Director took a tour of the home and gave it his final vote of approval.  We received the keys soon afterwards, and have since commissioned a set of grates to be installed on the front door.  

We have less than three weeks left in Zobue, so we're working hard to make the transfer.  Our current house needs to be cleaned up and packed, and the new house has to be made livable.  But besides the work that we'll put into furnishing the place, we probably won't spend much time there.  The giant house is just too big, and it will never be our home.  I prefer to close my service from my old, familiar house, even if that means sleeping on a straw mat on the floor.  

The large house and spacious surrounding quintal
The view from the backyard!  Looking over the mountains of Malawi.

It's a beautiful new house.  I hope that the next volunteers like it.  The decision to move was a difficult one, and one not taken lightly.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

34. The Blue Shoes

If you had asked me two or three months ago, I would have said that one of the hardest parts about being a Peace Corps volunteer was the painful dearth of gratitude.  

"It's not just the lack of thanks for the bigger things," I would have said, "for the hours spent in the classroom, for the private tutoring sessions, for the dedication to that little old computer lab..."  I would have shaken my head.  "I also miss the "thank yous" for the little things.  I miss the niceties that I was raised with in the States."

Kids don't really say "thank you," in Mozambique, and it's awfully conspicuous.  To us, at least, there's a hole in the conversation where a "thank you" should be placed:

Kid:   Can I have a piece of paper?
Lisa:  Why yes!  I have a piece of paper right here.
Kid:  (Stares at the paper, then takes it and runs away)
Lisa:  (Quietly, to no one in particular)  ...Bye...

We've poured our heart and soul into this village, and, for the longest time, we felt like we were being sucked dry.  Like everyone was taking and taking and taking and taking.  

After a while, though, we started to change our way of thinking.  We learned how to glean pleasure from the little tiny offerings, instead.  From a sticky hand offering a dirty bag of peanuts, to a flower on the doorstep, to a bag of lettuce given on the road, we learned to accept gratitude as a gesture, rather than as a spoken phrase.  

We've come to call these gifts the "blue shoes," in honor of a Teacher's Day present that Janet received from a student when she lived in Zobue.  (see Teacher's Day, October 2010).

Blue shoes can come in many forms.  They can be in the form of a hug from a child.  They can be a small paper airplane, or a picture on a scrap of paper.  They can be a carrot, an apple, or a plate of bananas.  

Blue shoes are valuable, but ever so rare.  That's what makes them special.    

Here is an extra meaningful pair of blue shoes.  It's a letter from a member of my computer class, written on our final day of lessons:



Ho!  It’s wonerful, I ‘m  now  a Proffeionalized person,
Now I have a Diploma in computer

 Grand  thanks  to our good instructer Mrs Lisa Spenser  for
Her  tolerance and diligence in her  all days of computer teaching.

I wish her   and her husband a long living wherever they live!

Thanks From:

Fadson Tirano.

It's the small offerings like this that complete the cycle of giving and loving, and reinforce my decision to keep doing what I'm doing.  

It might seem like a minor thing, but that little note means the world to me.  

35. The Red Sticker

Gilda was crying, so I put a sticker on her nose.  That seemed to solve the problem.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

36. Romao Gets Married (Part II)

Romao got married on a Tuesday afternoon.  It was a school day for the bride and groom, but both of them stayed home to work.  Romao was tasked with bringing soda from Malawi.  Teresa, the bride, stayed home to help cook xima.

We didn't see Romao all morning.  He ran over to ask for 70 Meticais at 6 o'clock in the morning ("For mom to buy a box of laundry soap") and then disappeared for the rest of the day.  His little sisters, however, were overwhelmingly present.

"Casa-mento!"  sang Tabita.  She skipped around the porch.  "Casamento, casamento!"

Her older sister hung in the doorframe.  "Make a cake!"  Feta chanted.  "Make a cake!"

It was a rainy, misty morning, but I braved the elements to walk to the muddy marketplace and launch a search for butter.  Then, with margarine in one hand, flour in the other, and an umbrella perched between my ear and shoulder, I made my way back home to start to bake a cake.  I figured that I hadn't bought Romao a present, so this was the least that I could do.

Thank goodness it was a rainy day.  Otherwise, my kitchen would have been stifling hot.  Over the course of the early afternoon, I made four large cakes in our little toaster oven (two for the wedding, one for a fellow teacher, and another for myself) and was just finishing the fourth when Feta came running and sliding onto the veranda.

"Now!"  She said, panting.  "Come now!  Bring your camera!"

Well, I wasn't dressed for a wedding, and I knew it.  But what should someone wear to a wedding in Mozambique?  I tossed my camera to Feta and ducked into the back room.  I chose a simple shirt and my newest capulana, wrapping it twice around my waist.

A large crowd was surging up the path, chanting and singing and waving branches with green leaves.  The bride-to-be was nestled between her mother and older sister, near the middle of the pack.  She was standing with her head down, underneath a make-shift canopy made from capulana.  She appeared to be... sad.  Considering the cheerful crowd around her, the bride looked strangely solemn.

The mass of people had already arrived in Romao's yard by the time that I'd stuck my head out of the front door, and, by the time that I'd tied up my hair, they had already collected Romao and shoved him into place beside his bride-to-be.  Immediately, he assumed the same somber position with the hanging head and half-closed eyes.

The group surged again and turned around, still chanting and singing and waving their sticks.  The bride and groom were whisked down the path to Teresa's family home.  In my flip-flops and double-wrapped capulana, I went running after them.

The crowd stopped in front of Teresa's house, and clumped around the front veranda.  Directly in front of the front step, the betrothed were stopped and waiting.  Prayers were said, and the crowd gave rounds of shouts and ululations.  The little kids milled about, still waving sticks and leaves.

Then, silence.  The ceremony was beginning.

Dan and I were ushered onto the front porch with the bride and groom and their respective families.  Not only were we the resident A'zungu (which does grant special privileges), but we were also the only ones who owned a camera.

Teresa and Romao sat in the middle of the veranda, holding hands.  On Romao's left side, sat his cousin.  On Teresa's right side, sat her sister.  The bride's mother and father sat in the corner of the veranda, and Romao's mother and uncle sat next to me.  The rest of the crowd stood down in the yard, peering over the wall of the porch.  The kids were bouncing around on tip-toe and scrambling to get a closer look.

The ceremony opened with a pitcher of maheu (sweet corn drink).  Every member of the bridal party drank from the same cup, which was offered by the officiant.  With their hands at their sides and their eyes still cast downward, all four drank a full cup, then waited to have their faces cleaned.  It was a slow and ceremonial process.

Words were said and the women in the crowd turned up their faces in ululation, but Dan and I just watched.  Everything was passing by in a language that we couldn't understand.  We relied on the flow of the crowd to tell us when to smile, clap, or to stay silent and somber.

After the sharing of the drink, the officiant called for a plate.  The plate was demonstrated to the crowd, and then placed before the bride and groom.  Romao's uncle tapped me on the shoulder and translated the words-

"We have to make an offering for the newly married couple."

Scores of people pored onto the porch, dropping small coins and bills and pieces of paper.  Some people gave gifts instead, like bars of soap and cheap capulanas.  There were shouts and cheers and li-li-li ululations from the crowd.  I nudged Dan and he leaned sideways to drop two ten-Met coins onto the plastic plate.

Once all of the gifts had been assembled on the bench before the couple, the bride's uncle stepped forward to make the total count.

"423 Meticais!"  He announced, waving a handful of coins.  About 15 US dollars.

He then began to read notes and well-wishes from the members of the crowd.  Most of the notes, I couldn't understand.  But sometimes I heard a word that was familiar (Chikondi-- love, mbuzi-- goat), and could catch the drift of the sentiment.  

Throughout the reading of the letters, the bride and groom held hands with one another, still staring resolutely at the floor.  

Then, suddenly, the crowd surged and moved.  The wedding party stood up to go inside, and I got a tap from Romao's uncle.

"We go inside now," he whispered.  "For the second part of the ceremony."

And so we filed inside the house.  The L-shaped front room was dimly lit from two small windows on the walls.  There were four straw mats laid out on the concrete floor.  The bridal party sat down first, on the straw mat against the back wall.  Then, the rest of the crowd piled around.  I was given a spot near the bride and groom, and would spend most of the ceremony staring at their shoes, which were jutting right in front of me.  

Everybody sat.  

The officiant knelt before the couple to give a ceremonial speech.  The bride and groom nodded solemnly, still staring downwards at the ground.  Most of the ceremony was beyond my comprehension, but a few works stuck with me.  

"Chikondi, chikondi, zikomo, zikomo."  Love, love, thank you, thank you.

Then, Romao's sister brought forth a suitcase.  It was wrapped in a capulana, and obviously very heavy.  There was a shuffling of legs as the onlookers made room.  

"This is Romao's gift to his bride," Romao's uncle whispered.

The sister opened the suitcase and pulled out the objects, one by one.  I saw immediately where all of his recent earnings had gone.  

"Sopi," said the officiant, as the sister held up the box of laundry soap.  

"Pratos," she said, next, switching to Portuguese.  Romao's sister lifted the stack of plates and showed them to the onlookers.  

Then, the girl started pulling out copious numbers of outfits.    

"Saia," said the officiant, as the sister waved a skirt.  "Saia," she said again.  "Saia, saia, saia."  In a country where most people only have three or four different changes of clothes, this must have seemed like an unbelievable bounty.  

"Camisa," said the officiant.  The sister showed a belted shirt.  "Camisa, camisa, camisa, camisa.  Chinelos.  Camisa, camisa."

The ululations were deafening.  

The sister repacked the suitcase and, with difficulty, lifted it onto her head and withdrew it from the crowd. 

After the crowd had once more drawn silent, it was time for the elders to offer advice.  

One by one, the oldest women in the crowd came forward to sit before the couple.  They knelt with difficultly on the straw mat and offered words of wisdom.  They were speaking directly to Teresa, but Romao was meant to hear and understand.  

Romao's brother translated furiously in my ear.  

"Many wishes for a long life and happiness...," he whispered.  "Always remember this early love that you share.... remember your roles in the family and community... a woman's place is at her husband's side... and she will remain loyal for all her days.... never to take another husband or another lover... care for the children and for the growing family...."

All of the elders gave similar advice.  Be loyal, they warned, scowling at the bride.  Be loyal, and he will take care of you.  Stay at home.  Know your place.  

After the fifth and final old woman had spoken, the onlookers erupted into cheers.  "Li-li-li-li-li-li-li!" went the crowd.  There was clapping and rocking and shouting and waving.  The crowd started to move, once again.  

This time, it was time for dinner.  

Several women-- aunts and cousins and female neighbors-- had been tasked with the food preparation.  They'd been cooking in teams, all morning since dawn.  

A peek into the back room nearly rendered me speechless.  I had never seen so much food.  The piles (yes, piles) were utterly massive.  There were seven giant pots of beans, ten pots of rice, and twelve bowls of cabbage salad.  Four pots of meat were guarded near the back, with two full of chicken and two full of goat.  At the center of the display, there were two forty-liter bacias of xima.  Both basins were piled well over the top with mushy white patties, leaning almost perilously over the dirty, unpainted floor.  

The women worked furiously in unison, piling food into smaller serving bowls and arranging it in the more public living area.  Massive chunks of xima were scooped into bowls and delivered outside, to the waiting throngs of onlookers in the yard.  Dan and I were served a full plate of cabbage salad, a full plate of rice, and a bowl of chicken carril.  

"Eat!"  Urged the onlookers.  "Eat, eat!  Don't wait!"

Dan and I looked on while the women continued to run around.  Bowls of beans were brought out to the porch, and salad was served onto plates.  Family groups clustered together around the serving bowls, pinching xima and salad and beans with their hands.  

Dan shrugged and attacked the food with gusto.  

"I like the chicken," he said.  "It's good."  I liked the rice and the salad, but was cautious of the meat.   

We ate for about thirty minutes, watching the proceedings and chatting with Romao's brother, who gave us more information about the wedding ceremony.  

"They're not sad, you know," said Danilo, pinching a bite of xima from his plate.  "The bride and groom, I mean.  They're just really embarrassed.  They're shy people, and the ceremony makes them feel uncomfortable."  

It became apparent that Dan and I would be unable to finish the five pounds of food that had been delivered to us, so the plates were taken outside to share with the rest of the neighbors.  

After dinner, the proceedings were less formal.  The kids came inside to climb all over us, and we let them take some pictures.  Then, it was time to cut the cake.  

"Where's the cake?"  Asked Romao's uncle.  

"What?"  I said.  "My cake?  I was going to give it to Romao after..."

"You should run home and get it now," he said.  

"But there are so many people..." I said.  I looked around at the crowd.  I hadn't tried to count, but I knew that there were at least one hundred people present.  

"You should present it as an offering," he said.  

And so I ran through the mist to go fetch the cake.  It was nearly dark outside.  

When I re-entered the house, with both the cakes in hand, there was a rolling wave of ululation.  Applause greeted me as I walked in the door.  I paused in the doorway, looking around.  Then, the situation dawned on me.    

I had just brought in the wedding cake.  The actual wedding cake.

There was a lot of shuffling around as the wedding party moved to accommodate the (lumpy, unfrosted) plain yellow cakes.  The bride and groom were seated on benches, and the cakes were placed on an overturned crate.  I was asked to sit in front, to take the pictures of the cutting.  

The cakes, which had seemed so large in relation to my own little oven, now looked tiny on the overturned crate.  Bless the officiant, though.  She charged right ahead.  She cut the first cake into 64 bite-sized pieces, and arranged the pieces on a plate.  

"Take a picture," she urged.  "Of the bride and groom."  Then she turned to Romao.  

"Feed the bride," she said.  She wheeled back to me.

"Take a picture!"  She said.  

We all obliged.  

After the bride and groom had each gotten their first bites, it was time to photograph the rest of the family.  The bride's mother and father sat behind the cake and fed each other one bite. 

"Take a picture, take a picture!"  Ordered the officiant.

Then Romao's mom and stepfather sat to eat the cake, and fed each other dutifully.

"Take a picture, take a picture!"

Finally, after several rounds of photos of people eating cake (including the kids, the cousins, the aunts, the uncles, the officiant, and us), the cake was delivered around to the masses.  Somehow, they made those two cakes stretch, and everyone was happy.  

Sodas were delivered, and I grabbed a cup to share mine with the kids.  Then, as a sleepy Chovita slid off my lap and crawled to the straw mat to go take a nap, I decided that it was time to go.  I was getting tired, too.  It was 8 o'clock at night.

The wedding continued for a while before dwindling completely, but it never got raucous or wild.  We could hear the muffled sounds of the celebration from the window to our room.  

I thought about it as I went to bed that night.  I had just attended my first Mozambican wedding, and I was very impressed and pleased.  The ceremony wasn't religious or very official at all.  Nor was it sappy or over-the-top.  It was just a simple ceremony-- A celebration of love and family.

The bride (in pink) is delivered to the groom's house
The bride and groom (in orange and pink) arrive at the bride's house for the start of the ceremony
On the veranda of the bride's house:  The bridal party shares a cup of maheu. 
The bridal party receives gifts from the guests standing outside the veranda
The bride's uncle reads from a list of gifts and offerings
The bride's little brother falls asleep during the long ceremony
Inside the house: The groom's sister unfolds and demonstrates the gifts from the groom to his bride
The bride's mother, aunts, and female neighbors prepare to serve the dinner
Members of the groom's family gossip while they wait to be served
Friends and extended family of the wedding party sit outside to eat dinner in the yard
Feeling embarrassed by all the attention, the bride and groom
capture a quiet moment together over a plate of rice and chicken
The bride and groom pose for a picture during the cutting of the wedding cake
The bride feeds the first bite of cake to the groom
The groom also feeds his guests of honor.  (Photo credit:  The kids)

So Romao is married now.

He spend his wedding night at Teresa's family's house, and she is now in the process of moving in to his.

I don't know how this will effect their lives in the future.  Even after two years here, I can't pretend to know what real life is really like.  Not for Mozambicans.

All I can do is wish them the best-- a life full of happiness, loyalty, health, and respect.  I care for them so much.