Monday, December 17, 2012
The past month or so I've been steeped in the social scene. Life has been go go go and as romantic aspirations have cooled into dissapointment, the moon of friendship ever rises.
There's been much carousing. I've essentially been on vacation. Everything in its right place.
I traveled to Ilha de Mocambique with the sunshiney Alexandra Breedlove; she who accompanied me on the mythic hike to Gurue's Garden of Eden.
Ilha de Mocambique is an incredibly strange tourist destination flung far up the Mozambican coast - a coast stretching the distance of Quebec to the gulf of Mexico. On the 5am to 2am bus it felt like Nampula, our destination, drew further from us the closer we drew near.
Immediately I began to notice the more Muslim population. The call to prayer was broadcast over the streets.
As Audi and I awaited our hot bus for Ilha, we called one food vendor after the next to give us good food. Fresh breads, boiled eggs and salt, fresh apples, cane sugar coca cola...and then the prize...BREADFRUIT. I spied him with the thing on his shoulder. We call him over. I'd heard of breadfruit but never tried it. How much? I say: 'make me a better offer.' 160 he says. I say '150.' It's a deal. A green stippled fruit the size of a small toddler is pushed through the window. Our neighbors are amazed. These whites hunger is insatiable! We baptize the breadfruit 'Mr. Greenbean' and take photo ops with him in groovey sunglasses. We depart for Ilha. Audi and I have lots to catch up on. We climb into a large open back to cross the long jetty connecting the island to the mainland. The locals admire our fruit fit to feed a village.
Ilha de Mocambique was the former capitol until the Portuguese moved it to present day Maputo. It was the point on the Portuguese's spear of Manifest Destiny. They shipped slaves from it, protected the trade routes to India from it, and built an enormous fort that resisted every attact.
Atmosphere oozes out of the rocks. As a colonial ruin, it is a World Heritage Site. As a place where you can snorkel in crystal waters, take a dhao boat trip to nearby islands, or stroll through the ancient fort, it is a tourist destination. But 98% of the small island's population lives like the rest of the country on a dollar a day, making their livlihood; taking life as it comes.
These people would be forced to leave if it turns too touristic. Because the island is difficult to reach, it maintains a rural mozambican feel. Submerged shipwrecks surround the island, sunken by cannonball or reef. The town uses all the old broken china and blue glass that washes up on shore to decorate restaurant bars and confection jewlery.
My favorite activity was snorkeling off the end of the port where we saw fish as colorful as those gracing the most exotic travel brochure. Audi and I stayed with Patrick, a marine biologist and PCV English teacher.
Together we continued from Ilha to Audi's home in Angoche. We had a fire on the beach under a full moon and swam in the Indian Ocean's warm waters. The next day we celebrated Halloween by making our own costumes. When the power went out, we played beer pong by glowstick light.
I began the slow ride south towards Beira staying with friends along the way. My last trip to Machanga, I went out to run one last time with the children going further then ever before. I gave away most of my things. I can't have much on me as I travel through Europe.
Now, I'm on the plane that is taking me out of Africa. I'm reminded of other imporatnt flights marking the book ends of my life. 16, leaving my family behind to live in Brazil. My flight taking me after high school to enter Americorps.
I'm finally finished with the Peace Corps and most curious about what life will bring next. Please stay posted!
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
But! Not to walk this side of the globe much longer! I end 5 years in the Peace Corps Dec. 6th. If you pass by any streetside fortune tellers, throw a penny in their hat and ask'em my future and you'll have a better chance then I of forcasting the future's great beyond. I've my own tea leaves to consult, but the way the light plays makes me doubt my future reading abilities.
I've one last blog to aid you in imagining Mozambique's culture landscape. It pertains to theatre and a trip I took with some youngsters to a sister school some 3 hours away. It's a little on the long side, but it'll likely be the last I send out from Africa, so get up, touch your toes, do 1-2 minutes of brisk walking around the room, come back and sit down to life in Mozambique.
Thanks as always for reading, and please don't hesitate for me to take you off the email list if you tire of my inanity.
Panguira Goes to Estaquinha
I typically hate to write these things before sending them out. I have a hard time trusting that my words will sound fresh if I let them sit for more then a day or two. But, I must put down a description of this weekend while it's memory is fresh.
This weekend I took my Panguira Group (Which means 'Counsel' in local language) to have a Theatre exchange with a sister school some three hours away. Anywhere three hours away is close here.
I was afraid 15 for a pick up truck would have been pushing it. I had memories from the weekend past of us all squeezed in upon our return from English Theatre. But, it seems 15 isn't too bad! This I observed from the relative spaciousness of the front seat, a King I!
Theatre in Mozamibque
Theatre here is quite vaudville in its stock characters, simple story plots, and physical humor. And like Vaudville, for all it misogyny and humor at the expense of adultery, illiteracy, and AIDS, it can really be quite charming.
For example the costumes. We volunteers joke that we should play bingo cards with the plays. Squares to mark off would include: chalk beards, Boss pot belly (bellies denoting stature), classroom scenes, sweeping the yard scenes, witch doctor scenes, hospital scenes. The costumes are always meant to be as random and hilarious as possible. Shoes are inexplicably put on the wrong feet, pants are worn inside out, giant sunglasses, wigs, walking sticks, might all be used. Their costumes are any clothes that are not what they typically wear, and because their collection of clothes is limited (I recognize kids this second year by the tshirts they wore last), the clothes that make it into the plays are usually quite odd or ripped. Once I saw them wear a straw that that had a giant hole in the top and the brim all torn up. Another time a guy wore lycra ski bottoms with suspender tops and flared pant legs. He was playing a gigilo. My face hurt from laughing at this character.
The plays our students make are usually recreating the struggle for independence or deal with domestic violence or AIDS. They're usually heavy handed in the message and sometimes model too much of the negative behavior we're trying to dispel.
Also, these plays are done in the school courtyard. There will be some 100-200 people gathered around, with vetrans in their caramel colored military dress in seats marked off on one side. Only the people in the front can see as it's always a tight circle around the action. Maybe there is one microphone that they hold in hand, or there is none. More often there's none. One of these times, I looked up to see kids filling the branches over me. I was sure a branch was going to break and children would rain down. I always feel I'm the only one with such fears for safety in public gatherings and transport.
The plays are all loosely improvised in a mixture of Portuguese and Xindau.
Despite the lack of training in anything resembling formal theatre: no (proper) costumes, exposure to play formats from the world without, and despite reliance on stock characters, talent still bears out.
Some of the kids make you want to watch them. They are fully immersed in character and have great physical humor.
This is our sister Mission School where we brought the students. It's parched in a different color then Machanga. Machanga is parched brown. Estaquinha is parched white, which somehow made it seem more desolate and dry. But the nice landscaping helped to counteract that impression.
We have an informal competition in Peace Corps. Well, two. The first is: 'Who is more Mato?' Mato is 'Bush' or 'Outback.' All of us like to believe we're the most isolated, most deprived of amenities, the furthest 'out there.'
The other competition between we volunteers in the ESMABAMA mission circut (there's 4 of us) is which mission gets the most love from the central office? Which mission is daddy's favorite?
I got some good ammunition this weekend against Estaquinha. It seems they boast, a fancy 800 dollar Panasonic Projector AND, it's rumored, a 3D projector. Good God! Compare this to the TV that stayed broken for half the year last, waiting to be taken across the river to the repairman here in Machanga. Also, they have (I understand agonizingly slow Internet) while the Internet promised here ready in two weeks time has after two years yet to materialize (despite my signing a contract!). Did I mention there's no land lines in Machanga or postal addresses? Have I conviced you Machanga is THE MOST mato?
Also, Estaquinha has three tractors, two of them new, to our one tractor.
So, Dylan and Ian show movies to their kids. This weekend they showed Glee and High School Musical. What a contrast onscreen to our weekend! But, I think the joy, enthusiasm, and I'll even go out on a limb and say talent and looks, are comparable to what flashed across the screen.
The kids had a great time and as we returned, as always they stood up in the back singing songs as conquering heros returned. Their happiness is certainly valid. One time, they took a capalana (bright local fabric), and tied it to a stick to use as a flag. Their joy is so over the top, that it makes you wonder how such a little thing as a weekend getaway to sleep on mats and eat beans and corn meal can mean to a kid.
But, now I see it's also a bit of showing off to the kids who didn't get to travel. It's: Look at us! We traveled and you didn't!
It was a colorful weekend.
Oh! Also! My lodging included a stand up shower and a fresh towel! Believe it or not, a bucket shower can be a very pleasant thing. But when you're dusty from two months of no rain blowing at you after a three hour ride, water shooting out of the wall and a fluffy towel seem like quite a luxury.
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Well, first off is me puppy. It's a she. Her name is Cooba which means 'to steal' in N'dau. She was found in our front yard and taken in. She quickly stole our hearts. This is the first time I've had a dog of my own, so I'm quite the proud father. I've been feeling that role sincerely since I've traveled many miles with her in cramped buses. If you travel with anything that shits and doesn't have its legs tied together, you'll end up feeling like a parent. I wonder if the guys who tie their goats legs up or chicken's legs up and shove them under seats might not have the right idea. Wow. Do I sound like a bad parent. I gave Cooba the opposite treatment, cuddling her for the 48 hour round trip and giving her bits of chicken and boiled eggs. She only pooped in the bus once and I think she was ready to jump out the window to avoid doing that. So, I'll take the blame on that one.
So, the first 100 km walk. It originated in Mangunde at my friend Ian's site. We walked through the 'mato' (outback) for two days straight heading for a fourth of July party in Dombe. Why do it? Everyone asked upon arrival. Simple. Glory. All of us had major blisters but were emboldened by our accomplishment. Out on the trails all the women wore headscarves and more then a few would bow to the ground when we passed. Obviously, Portuguese wasn't spoken as much way out.
Hiking the mountain was good ol' fun with my friend Alexandra Breedlove. I had over 15 people ask me for my dog. Cute at first, but then the children with their knifes became a little threatening. I soon saw what the knives were for when I bought from the road side a sugarcane stalk. The boy started whacking it up into little portions for us. Very nice. And sooo good. Juicey! Rip the stalk off with your teeth like a panda. Break off a hunk and chomp down on that sugary juice explosion. Once all pulp is sucked dry, spit. Mastering this technique is a major accomplishment of my time here.
We hiked first through beutiful tea plantations with flamboyant trees scattered throughout (actually their names). We walked until 4 in the afternoon, up and up. We passed a man pushing his bicycle up. I don't know how these bikes can help them. You push them up up up and then coming down, well, none of them have brakes, so really how fast can you go? Well, I took mercy on the poor chap and helped him steer (the easier job) while he pushed from behind. He got a kick out of my helping him and let loose this hilarious Hannah Barbara laugh: hyuck! hyuck! hyuck!
We passed this drunken man sprawled on the side of the road with two children nearby. He seemed harmless until he lunged at my puppy shouting: 'MY DOG!!!!' MY DOG!!!' We managed to lose the guy with a little help from our guide. The man was the hungry giant in the fairy tale of our hike into magical lands.
Finally we made it to the queen's home real tuckered out. Cooba makes friends with the black and white dog who was awful frisky for a new friend. There would have been no way to know this was a queen. No special clothes. She chopped the wood for our bath and brought us our food. The only thing that denoted her status was the negotiation of price for climbing the mountain (unexpected), and her leading the ceremony to have the spirits protect us as we climbed.
The mountain is said to be the origin of the people there; kind of a Garden of Eden.
Anyhow, we did a job of integrating in. Audi gave out stickers. There were quite a few kids about. They played an ancient cassette that periodically slowed to halt. We danced and played with them. I helped some with chopping wood. My persisentece earned me a smile from the queen which was not easily won. She was, I can't resist the pun, an ice queen. None too friendly.
But still! A Queen! Probably the only one I'll ever meet. When we gave her our offerrings of alchol and corn meal I tried to add a bit of humility with a bow and holding both hands out with gifts. Very cool.
So, that's the skinny! I'm receiving my good friend Carolyn from Romania this Tuesday with more adventures to follow.
Regards to you all!
Saturday, May 26, 2012
I had different aims for writing a blog before 4 am this morning. And so, I may return to that initiative, which is to recall to memory some of the interesting anecdotes and reflections that illustrate my life here. They accumulate and coalesce into ideas and perspectives that are later often forgotten. I hope to amend that.
1. The Scary Fart
I read tons here in Mozambique. It's a singular gift to have the time to do so. I once wrote a blog that I felt was rather clever, how Machanga, so rich in time, need export it to areas of the globe that are poverty stricken for time. Hours upon hours could be exported to all of you back home who lack the time to say, read.
One of the books I read fired my passion for running like never before. It's all about ultra running. Anyhow, I'm getting far adrift. The story is that I was out running, doing a two hour jog. I've grown accustommed to running as dusk falls and my return trip is always under a vast starry sky that's really quite brilliant. Running is one of the best things in Peace Corps, apart from reading.
Padding along the path, a man was strolling in the same direction. As anyone of you who jogs knows, running causes farts. As I came abreast of him, about to pass him, one sneaked out and startled him so. He jumped. Now, I at one point was a professional at various Haunted Houses and have scared many a poor soul. But never with a fart. I guess he didn't hear me coming.
Part II: N'diano Wafota?
And so, sorry for having scared him, it occurred to me make light of the event. I asked him as I jogged away, in local dialect: 'Who farted?' N'diana wafota? Mac and I have learned this as the only joke we ever need learn in N'dau. It always gets a laugh. Apparently word from students has spread about our little joke.
Farting is not a big part of the culture here. In fact, it is frowned upon. But, we muzungus can get away with such high jinks. Please keep in mind, most of this are jokes originate in our home with nary an expectation that it should leave those confines.
The only person I know who cuts em' like Mac is my brother. Seriously, these two could make a Pen & Teller routine with farts instead of magic and it'd be pure comedy. Mac particulary enjoys blaming them on our Club Muzungu VIP guests: Antonio (age 8) or Tujo (age 7). Joao derives particular enjoyment out of this game and has expressed on more then a few occassions his certainty that it was, in fact, Mac who dealt it (always quite obviously the case). Anyhow, that's how we came to ask Hassan, our empregado, how to ask: 'Who farted?' in N'dau. Upon learning it, we shared our newfound ability to converse in our local language with our teenage neighbors. No more need be done. Word has spread like a wildfire caught by farted flame.
Mac in town had a man from the other side the street shout this question at him, laughing all the while. I met a guy on the canoe who asked me the question. It's the equivalent of us all quoting the funniest superbowl commericial quip at work. I know I should not be proud of this, and is not what Peace Corps has in mind in spreading American Culture. But, it is gratifying to know that a good fart joke cuts across all cultures. Cuts. Hmm.
Anyhow, Story 2.
I learned in Romania, teaching at kindergartens, that giving balloons to kids = popularity. And so I've stockpiled a nice collection of balloons from the big Shoprite here in Chimoio. Now, I've used these balloons as well as stickers to distribute to the kids at school. Mind you, I teach 11th grade. But, never having had access to such things, their joy in such insignificant prizes is without shame. I had a neighbor (who has a laugh like a hyena), a former student of mine (age 19), show up and ask for a balloon. What color does he pick? Pink. What do you want it for? I ask him. 'For my room,' he tells me. Adorable. It's the impossible cultural gap that prevents me from explaining how wanting a pink balloon for his room in no way detracts from him his masculinity as a normal, quite cool, 19 year old guy.
So, I'll often hand these balloons out to the kids. Now, Mac and I agree that we are fond of two types of kids. 1. The cute little babies. Not so much the-not-so cute babies, however. There are enough babies around that you start to become a little discerning, and clearly, superficial. Seriously. In our small community of some 20 professors there are over 6 new borns and as many 1-2 year olds. But, then there's the outlier, like Gisele, our little starlet who, while not the cutest gerber baby, hates us because we are white and hates anyone to pick her up. Everyone loves a challenge, so Mac and I have endeavoured to win over Gisele's little heart, despite her below average baby looks. Then there is type 2. The 7 year olds and up. They have just enough social conditioning to make their company pleasent if not tolerable.
But anything in between 2 and 7 and they're just in the way and messing up and breaking your things all the while chattering in circles about some barely inchoerent story or request. They rove around in gangs like 'The Little Rascals.' They have no supervision. Where are they going? You don't know. What will happen when one of them falls down a well? Best hope that Lassie comes barking, and isn't run off with stones pelted after him. So, these kids roll on up looking for hand outs and want to show off to their friends that they're the Muzungu's best friend, and most of all they want to touch all your stuff and find out how to break it or win it from you.
So, being the friendly Muzungu ambassador to all children everywhere, friend of dogs, compassionate soul, showing that we of the adult world need not shun these outcasts to society invite these children to take of colorful bag of magic making balloons. First there is joy: BALLOONS! MR. MICAH IS THE HERO OF THE WORLD! BALLOONS! HOORAH!
Quickly word spreads that free balloons are being distributed and older brothers and sisters return with their younger less cognizant siblings to cue up. I'll blow them up and tie them. Then, of course they blow away in the wind and as balloons are apt to do, pop. I know they have popped because the crying is carried along by the wind. Shortly thereafter I hear fighting as they try to liberate a younger child's balloon through begging, borrowing, or stealing. When this fails, there comes the knock on the door. The sound of fighting comes nearer. Now the word becomes a lament, or an righteous indignant call: 'BALLOON! BALLOON!' I open the door to hear the too sorry tale of one little child, who, ever so sadly, you understand, no longer has his balloon. And now the quandry: do I replace said balloon? After all, these things happen and will continue to happen, and really, how much do I prize my populartiy amongst these children? And so I'll relent and the process begins again and continues for the next week. It earns me some unbidden hand holding, which is very nice, but not quite worth making balloon distribution day more then a bi-monthly event. After all, it seems to inspire equal parts joy and sorrow. It is a strange God like feeling.
It's 4 am and I'm in a rude state. Rude may not be the word. Agitated is neither the word. Something like a pain, an aching that nothing is being done. Of course a clarification is merited.
I'm in Chimoiu where is located our Peace Corps office and an internet that doesn't quit and comes like strong waves in a western city hooked into the 21st century. And yet Chimoiu has become for me a symbol of poverty and neglect the kind that ought make anyone in ownership of a car here, blush. We volunteers have sufferred a variety of crime here. Home invasions. Rape. Muggings. Police incompetence. A police force with so little resources that they need borrow phone credit from you to make a phone call. Never mind a car of their own. Everytime I've come to Chimoio I'm beset by beggars. I've grown too good at ignoring them. Each time I resolve to buy fruit to have something, anything to give them that helps. Money never seems the right choice and to ignore them outright seems heartless, though as I said, it's become routine.
For the reasons cited above, it was pertinent for me to walk a colleauge here to the office as her early morning taxi doesn't know our place's address. Walking here we passed a man huddled on the street. I must tell you it is cold here now that the winter has arrived. This poor man. Not so much as a place to rest his head at night.
We met the motorista at the office and as my friend ran upstairs to collect her things I explained our difficulties to him and how struck I am by the problems of this city. I described to him the man we passed, without so much as a blanket to comfort him. The motorista says, 'he was probably drunk.' I said, I hope he was. Perhaps that would help him forget the cold. But irregardless, drunk or no, doesn't everyone have the right to a place where they can lay their head? To warm themselves? To have some compassion from another? Good God.
And so I feel a compulsion. And an anger. And a desire to speak out.
There is an organization Eleos Ministries of whom I'm fortunate to know the husband and wife who are its founders. I met them in Romania where they've adopted three children who are now young adolescents. Ed travels around the world trying to awaken the spirit of God in others that the Bible teaches us to love those who are in need. Their message is a simple one and it is one of love. They run a beautiful gospel outreach to the homeless in London. It is known to its congregants as 'the Church Without Walls.' I'm so fortunate to have their example in a moment like this.
In the community I grew up in, I gained a distinctly negative view of Christians as those who wish to exert their viewpoints on others in a spirit most un-Christian. There is a decidely anti-Christian sentiment out there kept alive and stoked by a few very outspoken misguided souls. They give cause for too many of us to disparage a group of people around the world who commit great acts of compassion as general course.
And too many wish for us all to worship at the altar of reason and evolution when there are people who need some more immediate help. In Romania I met a missionary whose later espoused hatred for Muslims and Gays did not detract for me the power of his message to one very poor little girl: He had her stand up. He directed his finger at her and told her: 'God loves YOU.' I can't imagine the dark tunnel that girl's life may be. But I pray she remembered that man's words. That love cannot be taken away. Caprice, a gentle woman who preached the Gospel in Ocna Mures before it was acceptable, told me when they first arrived a Gypsy told her: 'We didn't know that God loved us.'
Put his political opinions aside, the mans' message of love wasn't some watered down nothing. He gave that little girl a candle that doesn't go out. She is loved. Who will relate that message? Be it Christian, Muslim, Jew, secularist, non believer, coach, what have you. I don't care what your beliefs are if you are showing love in your actions for the person in front of you. The light that doesn't go out. As the great Gay, Harvey Milk said: 'You gotta give 'em hope.'
I don't want to stay in Mozambique. I don't want to make this my life. I get older but these other volunteers stay the same age. I love it here. I am happy in my work. But I have also been doing this five years. I miss friends and family. I miss seeing my nephew grow up. I miss being part of a culture I feel a part of.
But tomorrow I'm seeing if I can't extend if it would mean I can find a church here to help the homeless.
For more info on Ed and Karen's organization visit: http://eleosinternational.org/ There you'll find many stories about the orphanage that I frequented in Ocna Mures: the children there, and the miracles the church has enacted in restoring these children to themselves.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
A year and a half into life in Mozambique has seen the romance cool. The honeymoon is over. I was so excited to be returning to Machanga following my trip home to the states, and indeed I am happy to be back. But, the novelty of the place has worn off. The other day after a 5 hour chapa ride that should have taken 3, I awaited the canoe as the sun set. I just wanted to get home. 25 minutes later it arrvied, but the chapa motorista left with a boy to collect his 10 metecais fare. 25 minutes passed and dusk had set. I was ready to pack it in and stay at my friends' hut when he appeared with three other men carrying a freezer which was loaded into the boat. The night was very romantic with the stars reflected in the waters and illuminating the night. I just wanted to get home. The other side, we met students returning home from break who paid extra. We had to bring them back across the river. I stayed in the canoe because well...I didn't get back until 9 at night. Mac and Safiyya must have thought I'd been swallowed by a crocodile. What was remarkable wasn't that I visited new areas of the river or saw my shadow by the light of the moon for the first time, but rather that I didn't care! I had one blah week in which I longed for nothing more then a job stapling papers and weekends to go to TGIF or somewhere else predictable with coworkers to get something deep fried and expensive. Predictability and familiarity. Still, roomate Mac and I agreed this would get old in 2 days or so and we'd be pining for adventure again.
That all being said, there's still highs. I had a volunteer visit my site and as we left I realized we'd stopped countless times to speak to students or former students, all of whom I introduced without thinking: 'This is one of my best students!' I was really impressed at the connections I'd amassed and the real fondness I feel for those students.
That's that for now. Hope you're all living well and walking lots.
Oh. And books. I need tell you of the great books I've read here. Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. Beautifully written, well constructed, vivid characters. I read 'All the King's Men,' again, great characters and beautiful writing, and some pretty heavy themes. I read Vonnegaut's Cat's Cradle. Cute and just a little tragic. I read a woman's letters from a holocaust deportment camp in Holland called Letters from Westerbrook. She still found life to be beautiful despite the awfulness about her. Her last letter thrown from the train said she and her parents left the camp singing. I read too about Percy Fawcett who cut his way through the Amazon Rainforest seeking a lost civilization. He disappeared but left countless followers who followed him into the jungle hoping to find what happened to him. It fired the imagination and impressed me with the man's courage and grit. I'm reading Tale of Two Cities by Dickens which so far has some incredible descriptions of the squalor, filth and lawlessness of Paris in late 1700s. And this weekend two Great, great movies: The Fighter with Mark Walberg, and True Grit with Matt Damon and Jeff Bridges. Fantastic. Inspiring. Now I've got to get to my writing.
Hope y'all is fine and dandy and I do hope to write again sooner then later. You all deserve something a bit more poetic and sincere.
My love and regards to you all.
Sunday, January 29, 2012
Hello from the other side of 2012!
We’re all in this New Year together so let’s make the best of it: Kick some butt & take some names.
I’m back in Mozambique for my second year. Got back from the states after a whirlwind trip home that covered Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. Thanks to Peace Corps who made it all possible. Thanks to Moms & Dads who flew me down to Florida and paid for innumerable meals and movies out nevermind use of their vehicles. Thanks to Jame for insisting I need new shoes and to Dad who insisted I return to the use of underarm deodorant. And thanks for all you who made the effort to make it down to Old Saybrook to see old Micah Carbonneau.
Some highlights of the past few weeks include meeting the new roommate Mac, who in this very short year has proved to be the most positive person I’ve met thus far. He is so excited to be in Peace Corps in Machanga. To quote him: “My excitement is going to explode!”
He’s a runner like me, so already we’ve hit the roads making for an unstoppable Muzungu attraction. Our first jog out, we had in the course of a 35 minute jog over 30 people join, mostly women and children. One woman had a baby on her back bouncing. Another was was a child with a bandaged foot.
Mac is huge, blond and as friendly a public relations figure as South Carolina could produce. He is gregarious and earnest and damned determined to improve his already capable Portuguese and get a handle on the local language. (he already knows how to ask: ‘Who farted?’ in N’dau) There’s a funny story how that little gem was acquired. All that and he still gets down on himself that he’s not doing enough. That’s your typical Peace Corps Volunteer for you. So, he’s been a big inspiration.
Looking back on my trip home I’d more then a few special memories and excellent dos. I gave Jesse a few baths, we all saw the Muppet Movie together and had ourselves a Dance Party to the BeetleJuice Soundtrack: “Jump in the line! Rock your body in Time! Okay! I believe you!”
I visited the Wadsworth & New Britian Musuem of Art, did Yoga in Brattleboro, VT, skied for the first time in 10 years, and saw War Horse, Tintin, Super 8, & Hugo. Mom & I went kayaking and bicycling in Florida, I ate copious amounts of pizza, and saw more n’a few good friends including the Testermans and the Roesella’s.
Some sad news: A few days before Christmas I got word that two volunteers in Mozambique were killed in a car accident. Two other volunteers were in the car with them, one was from my group. He suffered a major concussion and back spinal injuries, and the other escaped unharmed. They had hitchhiked in the afternoon, the car was new, only the driver was going too fast and didn’t make a corner forcing a roll over. The two women aged 22 and 23 were from Mac’s group and had only been at their new sites for less then a week.
Our country director went over at my group’s mid service conference last week details of the crash and its aftermath. Their coffins were draped in the flag and each step of their flight back to the states was accompanied by a Peace Corps official. The outpouring of support from the embassy, the expat community, the staff, and volunteers has been very moving. It is a tragedy but one of the risks we take. I and other volunteers who never met these colleagues could not help but be affected. We’re a pretty big family here. And it's a period of our lives that force us to grow and rely on one another a good deal. Some of the new volunteers are quite shook up. The one volunteer who survived the crash is eager to return and I understand the mother of one of the women is eager to come to Mozambique to meet her daughter's host family and see the community where she would have served.
When I was home I was asked often what I’d do following Peace Corps. An occurrence like this strengthens my belief in the organization. It forced me to consider the purpose of my mission here: to serve others and live as they do with all inherent dangers. It is nothing compared to service in the Army where death is an expected element of service.
Back home, this being my fourth year abroad, I realized I no longer identify myself as uniquely American. I’ve had four years to identify myself with a broader community of Romanians, Mozambicans, expats, missionaries, and international service workers, and it’s compelling work. I’m less certain I want to live my life in the states, but of course everything changes.
I am trying to further investigate jobs in the Peace Corps. And still I feel compelled to work in Hartford. But, if it’s between anywhere USA and abroad, I’d likely go abroad. Of course my first consideration is work and family. Fortunately, these past years I've been home to see family once a year. I doubt I could go any longer than that. Nothing is more important then family.