Thursday, November 21, 2013

1. Returned PCVs

Returned Peace Corps Volunteers!  Showing off our completed paperwork.
From left to right:  Lisa, Dan, Dylan, and Jamie

Today was a monumental, fantastic, and truly important day:  Today we earned the letter "R."

As of this afternoon, Dan and I are no longer Peace Corps Volunteers.  We are now considered RPCVs, or "Returned Peace Corps Volunteers."  

After two years of service, we're coming back home.  

This has been such a wonderful experience for me, and for my husband as well.  We have really enjoyed living overseas.  We've made friends (American and Mozambican), taught classes, and learned a new language.  We've grown professionally, and we've grown personally (and culturally... and linguistically... and emotionally).  We've developed our relationship, and solidified a strong foundation for our youthful marriage.  Dan and I have given up so much to be here, but we've earned so much more. 

I'm thankful and honored, and feeling joyous.  

As of tomorrow morning, Dan and I are officially leaving the country of Mozambique.  We will travel in South Africa for a couple of weeks and then return home to the States on Thursday, December 12, 2013.  

Adeus, a nossa terra gloriosa.  Boa noite, Mozambique!

Bom dia, America!

4 - 2. COS Week

Here are a few photos from our Close of Service week in Maputo:

Food!  Always a focus for Peace Corps Volunteers, especially after two years abroad
Part of the Maputo skyline at night
A full moon over Maputo's concrete cityscape
Paintings flutter at the open-air market
Dangling art:  Purses for sale

It's been a very positive couple of days, and a very productive COS week.  Dan and I have verified, for instance, that we do not have malaria, worms, parasites, or HIV/AIDS.  We have also proved ourselves to be free of tuberculosis, skin diseases, schistomiasis, and a variety of other titchy and uncomfortable ills.  We are healthy and ready to return to the States.

And in addition to finishing our medical work, Dan and I also sat for our final Portuguese language exam.  After a grueling 20-minute interview, we were each determined to be "Advanced-level" speakers.  That's amazing, considering that fact that we didn't speak a word of Portuguese when we arrived in 2011.  I never thought I'd ever be fluent in another language.  What a fantastic example of personal growth!

Finally, we sat for our personal exit interviews with our Country Director, Carl.  He thanked us sincerely for our service, and for our dedication to the blog.  It felt good to get that feedback, especially from the head of Peace Corps Mozambique.

We've had a very busy week, but a happy and successful COS experience.  It was great to close our service with a clean bill of health, a second-language certification, a nice pile of cash, and the praise and support of  our beloved superiors. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

5. To Maputo

Leaving Namaacha and heading to Maputo with "all our worldly possessions"
(That is to say, everything we're bringing back home with us to the States)

We're heading to Maputo for our final week of service.

This last week is known as COS (Close-of-Service) and includes medical exams, dental exams, language exams, and an exit interview with the Country Director himself.  Over the course of the next few days, we will close our in-country bank account, offer three stool samples to the saintly Dr. Izzy, submit our final Description of Service, and stamp out of the country as Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.

For the first time since I set foot out of Zobue, I feel excited and ready to leave.  I'm starting to let go a bit, and look into the future.  I find that I'm excited to travel and go back to see South Africa.  I'm excited to return home to the States and spend time with my family.  The world just seems so promising!  I feel wonderful, happy, and free.

Five days left in Mozambique.

6. Visiting our Host Mother

We set aside one afternoon to visit our host mother in Namaacha. 

I’ll admit that I was nervous.  We’d lost touch after training, and hadn’t spoken in nearly two years.  I wasn’t sure if she would recognize us, or even remember us at all.  Some part of me was terrified to set foot in her quintal.  What if she had moved?  What if she didn’t know us? 

All of our worries were put to rest, however, when we pushed aside the sheet-metal gate and tentatively called, “Licensa?”

“Sim?”  Said the little woman, poking her head around the corner of the concrete barracca.  Then, her face lit up like a sunrise.

“Eeeee,” she said, jumping to her feet and wiping her hands on her capulana.  She started clapping and jumping from one foot to the other. 

“Leeeesa!”  She said.  “Daniiiiii!” 

For the next hour or so, we sat on plastic chairs, conversing.  Mom ran around, procuring food out of nowhere, and urging us to eat. 

“You’re too thin,” she scolded, pointing at my jagged shoulders.  “It’s because you don’t have a mãe.” 

She was exactly the same as I’d remembered; only this time her language was discernible.  Was it me who had improved so much?  Or had she improved, as well?

We asked about Ajuvencia, and about the baby. 

“Ajuvencia’s in the city,” she responded, “working at a job.  The baby’s name is Kelson, and he’s staying with her, too.  He crawls now.  And walks.  And talks!”

Together, we marveled at the passage of time.

We talked for a long time, until Dan and I realized that we had to go.  The three of us took a picture together with “Pai,” then walked out of the quintal in a slow-moving group.  The moment wasn’t sad, however, as it had been with our other despedidas.  We were saying a happy goodbye.   We were just glad to see her again, and she was glad that we hadn’t forgotten her.   

“It’s no small feat,” Mom said, “Two years.  You did good work in your service, you two.  And by God’s good work, we’ll all meet again.”

Our host family home in Namaacha
With Pai and Mae on the front stoop of the family home

7. The New Generation

Site placements weren’t just meaningful for the new volunteers.  They were also intensely relevant to Dan and me, because we were meeting our replacements.  These two new volunteers would take our place in Zobue, teach our classes, lead our clubs, befriend our friends, and love our dogs.  They would be “us,” and we’d move on. 

Thankfully, the Peace Corps staff selected our replacements well.  Two girls, Sienna and Emma, were chosen to go to Zobue, and both of them seem like a really strong fit. 

Sienna, it turns out, likes walking and hiking and being outside.  She seems calm and centered, and happy with her placement.  She’ll be teaching eighth grade math, making her Dan’s direct substitution.  The other girl, Emma, is my replacement, and will be teaching eighth grade English.  She’s pretty, tall, and willowy, and is more than willing to care for our dogs.  She seems nervous about the pit latrine and the outdoor shower (she’s a city girl, at heart), but we all know that she’ll be fine. 

Sienna keeps a blog here (Peace Mozambique), which I really look forward to reading and following.  Like Janet and Lucas said about mine, it will become a little “window into Zobue” from the other side of the world.  

Sienna (left), Dan, Lisa, and Emma

8. Site Placements

This particular week of training was the big “Site Placement” week.  This week (Week 7 out of 10), was the week in which each of the volunteers learned the name of their new site, and the town in which they would work for the next two years of their lives. 

The atmosphere was full of excitement and nerves.  The new trainees had trouble concentrating all morning and afternoon, and were impatient to get to “Site Announcements.”  Most claimed that they didn’t have expectations, but also admitted that it was hard not to harbor some preferences.  Some people decided that they wanted to go north.  Some people thought that they would prefer to stay south.  Some wanted beach sites and others wanted mountains.  All, of course, would adapt and survive wherever they were placed. 

Jules smiles while Steven comforts a nervous Sarah
Thelma and Maria laugh anxiously
The trainees wait for their site placement envelopes
Standing at the edge of the giant map of Mozambique
Starting to read the letter of introduction on each of the sealed envelopes
Rayna and Tania receive their envelopes
Camila, Fei, and Colin wait to open their envelopes with the rest of the group
Salome stands at the ready
Opening the site placement envelopes
Sienna strides off to her site on the map
Tania shows off her new site in Angonia, Tete!

My dear replacement put it best, when she wrote,

I don’t think I’ve ever felt such a combination of nerves, excitement, anticipation, and anxiety.  Not when I went to college, not when I graduated from college, not when I found out I was going to Mozambique, not even when I left for Mozambique.  When we were about the get our placement envelopes I felt like I was either going to throw up or burst into tears.  But it’s over--now we know our site placements and can begin to prepare for what is next.”

9. Training

So I’ve always loved the Peace Corps.  Since Alyssa Thiel first described to me her work on Vanuatu (“You mean you go and teach English and they pay for EVERYTHING!?”), I’ve loved and supported the ideals of Peace Corps. 

How can you not love an organization that sends young people overseas with the sole intention of sharing culture, making friends, and providing learned, free labor?

As such, I’ve always wanted to “go down to training,” and play a part in the formação of the newest group of volunteers.  I wanted to inspire them, and to share my grande experience.  This year was my year to go (although I was a bit of a last-minute addition), and I was so thankful for the opportunity.

I really put my heart into the work that I was doing.  I spent the week in Namaacha with my husband and with Jamie Randol, who are two of the most dedicated volunteers that I have ever met.  And although it was our last full week in Mozambique, all three of us put all of our strength and energy into our lessons and tech sessions.  I gave classes with the same joy that I gave them at site, and I worked tirelessly to answer questions and provide support. 

From Monday to Friday, Jamie, Dan, and I sat in on language classes, ran teacher training sessions, and created mini-aulas as example lessons.  We interacted with the volunteers and talked and talked and talked and talked.  And while I enjoyed giving lessons in a formal setting, I felt like my biggest impact was made at a more personal level, as I answered questions about my site, my teaching, and my students. 

It was fun to feel like an expert, and it was a great way to end our service “strong.” 

Lessons at the Teacher's Training Institute (IFP - Namaacha)
Volunteers do a skit while Dr. Isadora looks on
Dr. Isadora gives a very stern (and graphic) lecture about STDs
The Peace Corps Volunteer Trainer "residence" in Namaacha
Volunteer trainees brainstorm lesson plans in a group

10. Namaacha

After a two-year absence, it was wonderful to return to our old training town of Namaacha.  In a way, it was a fitting end. 

More than two years ago, we stepped off the plane in Maputo International Airport.  We were overwhelmed and unsure, each of us gathering our courage and questioning the series of rash decisions that led us to that particular moment.  We barely spoke Portuguese.  Most of us had little to no experience teaching.  We had never set foot in Africa.

To come back again, and return to Namaacha after two years of service, really and more than anything marked the end of our Peace Corps experience.  We had come full circle.

It was then that we could see how far we’d come, and how very much we’d grown. 

Our old language teachers were overjoyed to see us, and cooed about our burgeoning lingua.

“Why, you barely spoke when you left here!”  They said.  “You just waved your arms around-- yes, like that-- and stuttered.  And now, look at you!  You’re a Real Mozambican!”

The sprawling hills of Namaacha 
A large house in Namaacha
In Namaacha
In Namaacha
In Namaacha
In Namaacha
A beautiful, tree-lined avenue
The famous cathedral in Namaacha
Jamie and her host sister, Benilde
The well-stocked market
At the German Bakery
The German Bakery in Namaacha

Compared to Zobue, Namaacha looked fancy and chique and ornately rich.  For the first time, I realized that I was seeing a completely different side of Mozambique. 

Tete Province, my old home, was in a much poorer region of this developing nation.  The province was a part of the country that was poor and underprivileged, but growing all the same.  It had been relatively untouched by tourism, and in a corner of the world that I would have never gotten to know if I had never joined the Peace Corps. 

I have been intensely privileged to have experienced both sides of Mozambique, and for that I am intensely grateful.  

11. Emotional Turmoil

It’s been incredibly hard for me to adjust to my departure from site. 

I’ll admit that this isn’t the way that I thought I’d feel.  Two years ago, when I pictured the end, I pictured myself feeling done:  satisfied, proud, and ready to go back home. 

What I didn’t except was to feel incomplete.  Like I was leaving too soon. 

The thing is, I’m a late bloomer.  For the first twelve months at site, I felt more like an observer than an actual, integral part of my Mozambican village.  I was still learning the language, and I was often nervous or mildly uncomfortable.  I didn’t have fast friends or dependable relationships.  I was a loosely floating leaf, lightly touching down from time to time without really establishing roots. 

I wanted to belong.  I just wasn’t ready yet.

But when I started my second year, I found everything so much easier.  I spoke better.  I interacted better.  I understood jokes.  I understood the school.  I understood the students and my neighbors and all the other teachers. 

I started building friendships.  Real friendships, based on humor and interests and mutual respect.  My language skills were stronger, and continued to develop.  I found more energy and direction for my projects and my classes. 

My last four months at site, I found, were by far my most productive.  I found that I was braver.  I was happier.  I was stronger.  I made more progress in the last few months than I did for the first year and a half.

And then, at the very top of my game, I packed my bags and walked away. 

I think that’s often the way that it goes.  Some Peace Corps Volunteers seem to adjust immediately, while others wade in slowly, watching and waiting and peering ahead.  By the time that I adjusted, I was almost halfway through.

I could have chosen a 1-year extension, to ride the crest of my recent momentum.  I could have started the literacy group that I’d always hoped to start, and developed some of my budding relationships.  I could have stayed with my dogs for that much longer in their lives. 

But Dan, unlike me, was ready to go.  He felt fulfilled and proud of his service, just like I’d always thought I’d feel. 

“It’s time to go,” he told me, softly.  “We have other things to do, as well.”

And he’s right, of course.  We have other things to do. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

12. Transition

Just a brief post to let you know that we're in transition.

Dan and I flew out of Tete last night at 9:30 PM and arrived in Maputo at 11:10PM (side note:  African capitals are uncomfortable after midnight).  This morning, we took a chapa with our beloved Peace Corps bestie Jamie and arrived in our old training town, Namaacha.  

For the next week, the three of us will serve as the "PC Volunteers of the Week" and help out in the training of the newest volunteers.  We are now the veterans.  

Participation in training will allow us to carry out the following:

1.  Visit our host mother and host family (Ajuvencia's baby is nearly two years old!)
2.  Meet the newest generation of Peace Corps Volunteers AND our site replacements
3.  Finally take pictures of Namaacha.  I took very few when I lived here two years ago!

We've already met some of the new volunteers, and most of them already knew me by name. 

"I totally read your blog!"  They said.  "I read every single page of it!"

We're looking forward to this week of training, and especially to the big site announcement ceremony on Thursday. I feel so grateful and lucky to get to meet my replacements and to sit down with them in person.  What a satisfying and symmetrical end to our service.  I feel as if I've come full circle.  

But for now, for the first time in a long time, I am too exhausted to write.  I am overwrought and overcome with emotion.  So tonight, I am going to rest.  

Tomorrow starts our week at training!

Welcome back to civilization!  Eating a hamburger the size of my face.