Monday, December 19, 2011

Lynch Mobs and philosophical tangents

Here's an old blog that I was hesitant to post. It's called 'The Dark Side of Poverty.' Maybe you're thinking: poverty has a light side? At the end of the post, I'll share my thoughts as to poverty's 'light.'

The Dark Side of poverty: I've learned recently that in the big cities, crime is dealt with by lynch mobs. My students tell me they've all seen a lynching. Theft is crime #1. When the police do nothing, the people take justice into their own hands. Patrick traveled to South America during college and he told me they burn thieves there, so it's something rather common, I think, in unorganized parts of the world. It is horrifying, but I've been working to get an angle on it. What I gather is that I can't understand how horrifying it is to live in a world where your only possessions are clothes and food living without any protections from bullies and neer do wells. Like all evil, the evil paid in retribution pulls the good people down. Ordinary good people turn into a righteous mob ready to serve retribution with sticks, petrol, tires, and a match. It's hard to understand such rage without knowing the conditions that foster it. So, that's my limitation, the cultural barrier: class.

What reassures me is 'Normal Goodness.' Everyday people do incredible things when no one is watching. Where is the person who finding a wallet full of money returns it without thinking to take a dollar? Where is the mother who rocks her crying infant into the night, sacrificing her rest to give her child comfort? Where is the person who gives up their chair on the bus for the elderly? I think of men on the titanic who let women onto the life boats, because it was their duty to die so the women and children might live. People do right because they are good, and it are these small actions that uphold humanity and such goodness gives me immense reassurance.

Poverty's 'Light'

Oscar Wilde said: 'The poor don't know how idylic they are.'

This belief is borne out by pastoral paintings in banks and boardrooms of cows and farms, old houses, 'simpler times.'

I think there is widespread fear that our society has grown too complex or materialistic for its own good. I fear my blog may make friends and family guilty for having technological tools and guilty pleasures. It's the: 'children are starving in Africa and China,' deal.

I've tried hard to steer from that angle. Pity and guilt are more likely to atrophy will and blunt insight. Compassion and laughter on the other hand reveal our common humanity. That's what I hope you come away with from these reflections.

A less controversial persepective to take is 'simple vs. complex.' It's easier to be objective in that guise.

Some anecdotes:

An elderly woman I walked with to a Christmas stroll tripped on a new driveway's lip and bloodied herself. An ambulance and paramedics were on the scene in less then 5 minutes with a hydraulic stretcher and an ambulance with head room. Cones were set up that night and before the week was out, cement had been laid by the town to smooth the lip.

My father told a story about his dryer crapping out a year after purchase, one week after the warranty expired. He had to pay to have it repaired. Later he learned there was a class action lawsuit against the company for the common malfunction his dryer experienced. He got all his money back for the repairs from the suit.

I took a bus ride and had wifi access and a seatbelt. I navigated from Brattleboro VT to Hartford to Old Saybrook CT and was picked up by a waiting technician to drive me to my father's car's dealership.

Coordination and systems abound. Certainly they fail more often then succeed, but there are much higher standards of accountability and more efforts invested to see that success is finally reached.

Not Machanga.

There they don't get pissed off about broken dryers because they don't have dryers. There they don't navigate all across creation and need web access while en route because everyone they need to contact is in their community a walk away. They don't have seat belts in their buses because no class action lawsuit or government initiative is encouraging people to 'buckle up!' And there they don't have police or systems funded that can ensure your possessions aren't stolen. Nevermind those more pernicious crimes of molestation, sexual harrasment, and rape.

But, you don't have to pity the people 'there' or admire them. Just love them as you love the people in front of you and next to you because of the beauty and imperfection of us all. Decency is always a simple human characteristic and an enduring one and is totally divorced from location, time, and race. That's why they call it 'common decency.' It's everywhere.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Well, I ought to have begun this blog as my bus pulled out the station, but now we're already on the highway, no time to be nostalgic for my father's city of Hartford. I'm already passing the dump.

I'm writing you from a situation that couldn't be further from my Mozambican experience. I sit on a greyhound bus heading to Vermont with a notebook laptop plugged in accessing the bus' wireless system.

I went through all the brochures boasting Hartford's cultural wealth. I ran into a guy who I may have known at one point from days in the Center. He's on hard times, but didn't ask for help which I was expecting. He said it's expensive to live everywhere. I told him: 'not everywhere.' I spend 10 dollars a week on food .

Coming home, I hear talk about the economy's weakness. I lament that people are out of work. I'm still very cushioned from the slings and arrows of fortune. Poverty is of course a question of perspective. I hesitate to draw any comparisons between the 'hard times' here and those I've seen abroad. I hope I'll always remember that no matter how lost I feel in the future that there are those with much less.

Otherwise, home's all right. Hope you all are gearing up for the holidays and enjoying the love of family and friends as we move into the holiday season.

My wishes of health and serenity to you all.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Part III Back Home

Part III Return to the good ol' USA

'In Romania, I've learned to live with lowered standards. In Mozambique, I've learned to live without.'

This is a line I've used a few times, and it's a statement I'm testing this trip home. How much can I preserve my viewpoint and adopted way of life surrounded by all that America is?

Catching connecting flights, I began to notice more and more passengers speaking English. Kind of like noticing the water temperature slowly change.

I've decided it is hard to travel and look well groomed. Travelers are unkempt people. It's too difficult trying to walk out the pages of GQ magazine onto a plane with all your crap in tow. I struck upon a nice costume for traveling. . I'd bought a giant basket the shape of those hats worn in Vietnamese rice paddies. The easiest way to carry it was on my head. Everyone from the kids on the street I passed in Vilanculos, sweating, hauling my butt to the airport on foot, to the women hawking credit card subscriptions in Atlanta, loved the hat. All you need then, is something slightly ridiculous. On my trip back to Africa, maybe clown shoes?

Last trip home I was trying only to get ready for the next step. This trip home I'm hoping to actually reach out to friends. But, not been able to since Jame, Cristy, and nephew Jesse are in town.

There are the predictable highlights: cheese, pizza, & coke. A muppets movie with popcorn and killing machines with the lobby's video game 'Terminator Salvation.' My parents organized a party for family and family friends that was like stepping onto a hug carousel. Other highlights include last night's giving my nephew a bath and listening to Al Green for the first time in 3 years.

Adjustments: walking into the Stop & Shop I noticed the potato chip bags have gotten bigger. The bakery there is filled with delectable treats. The shelves were arm deep, stacked with cans, cookies, plastic things, ice cream, nuts, chocolate....I'm flabbergasted that our economy can support this much stuff. How does this store not go out of business having so much capitol tied up into cupcakes and bread stuff that goes bad after a day and 1/2? I can see how there's an obesity epidemic. There's just too much good food around and it's too cheap! I wanna get fat too!

It seems that forces, like those reacting to Environmental Dangers, are gathering, educating people about nutrition, organic options, etc. but it's not happening fast enough.

In Machanga, I don't have a refrigerator: no milk, no cheese, no meat, no problem. With all my condiments, my kitchen compared to other Mozambicans, is intense. Mine, in comparison to kitchens here is a rusty old chevette. I'm cooking dinner for my neighbor this Sunday, and opening her fridge to peruse, she stated: 'I have nothing.' But, oh wow, she had so much!

Also, there's the getting used to driving everywhere. Yesterday I went for an hour and a half walk to staples. That felt good. It would have been a 10 minute round trip drive. Let me tell you, I'm glad I walked. Even though my folks live on kind of a jetty without a lot of traffic, I was still passed by cars every few minutes. Visiting the local gas station, passing the reflective shiny speed signs, getting passed by more cars, entering Staples where there's so much more stuff...I was struck by just how complex life is here. I passed on the way some marshes. Saw some berries I've missed until now and some lumber and other detritus. Those natural systems are awful complex, but our complex systems are pushing them off to the side.

One developing so much faster, changing faster then the other.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Part II Tofu Revelation

Part II Diving with Whale Sharks

So school's ended and I had me some three weeks to go where the wind blows. This took me to spending more 'n a few days with volunteers I'd not seen since October's training. We volunteers are a good crowd of kids who love to eat and watch tv shows n' movies. Lots are into drinking but I'm finding I have more interests in common with my fifth grade self then 20 somethings. Popcorn, soda and a movie or tv show promises great entertainment. I don't have a laptop at site so most of my entertainment at home is jogging, art, or reading.

So my friend invited me to go with her & her friend to dive with the whale sharks. These two ladies both go by the name Camila. One is Puerto Rican. She's curvy, smart; ambitious. The other's a Georgia peach, an artist: tall, classy, & very sweet.

We make it to Tofo, racing to make the boat taxi across the sound. Our first chapa breaks down twice. It's quite hot. We flag down an air conditioned ride with an Africaaner. Most of these guys I see are over 50 and shaped like barrels. It turns me racist-I get to thinking all white people are unattractive and Black Mozambicans (who are almost always slim and muscled) beautiful.

This guy was friendly enough (especially for picking us up). We had some interesting discussion. When you meet any whites from South Africa, you can assume their attitudes towards blacks bear traces of the racist apartheid government that lasted into the 90s. About Blacks he said: "I'm Boer. They have their space, I have mine." He's trying to build a hotel but has to wade through lots of bureaucracy to obtain permits. He is in for the long haul however. His stories of working with officials showed he had tolerance and some understanding. That kind of interaction for mutual gain promises the continued development of race relations. Or maybe I'm just intuiting too much. Camila talked to us both about Bovine tuberculosis. Like I said: she's smart.

We crossed using a boat that had a cage on top it, covered by a tarp to keep us dry. No escape hatch. If you are looking for transport safety, Africa is not the continent for it. The Embassy official who visited our training group told us: "Be smart. If you catch a ride hitchiking, find a place where you can jump and roll." This is one area where I am all about Strong Government imposing rules to the benefit of all.

In Tofo we hit the bar scene where lots of unkempt 20 something backpackers danced to the worst DJing. I wrote a poem for the party. I think a party is an excuse for joy. Joy must be felt sincerely. A good party is a sincere party.

Two of the best parties I ever attended were also the geekiest. One was the prom at the special education school I worked for (theme: Oscar Night). the second was in Romania with Hungarian teachers, the median age 55 partying out in a cafeteria. Both parties, a jubilant, sober dance floor. Fierce.

Here's my poem:

Tofo Revelation

The poet's philosopher stone
turns the focused energy: a joy of parties bursting at the seams
stomped church floors with bursting voice of choir
and solitary spinsters alone in their kitchen with the radio loud
dandcing themselves over the broken linoleum
It takes out of the night
collected from the dust of cars racing through
cutting it like a knife
the man 'hind the wheel crazy for the music
that's stirred his soul something sincere

That stone turns that energy
to make some special gas
that powers nuclear generators
steam engines, lamborghinies,
the cameras at Emmy Award Ceremonies and all the bulbs' flash

Runs for years on years
leaving no residue or pollution.
Dilutes only in the feeling amongst the people
as some vauge sentiment
that the world's all right.

I went diving with the whale sharks. They have no teeth, eating only algae or krill. They're spotted. The guy was great at dropping us right in front them. You see only a huge mouth coming at you and have to hustle to get out the way.

The art market was incredible but I was short on funds. I will return.

Part I Mangoes from Umbilical Cords

All right. Seems this blog'll be three parts.

Part #1: 6 hr. trip to Beira diary
Part #2: Whale Shark Diving (& a poem)
Part #3: Return to the USA

As always I'll try and keep it succinct. ;)

1. Beira. I've hated this long ass journey since having to take it while desperately seeking medication to treat the scabies attack that had turned my body to that of a sunburned lizard. The packed conditions then seemed less then charming. This particular morning, I lucked out and was taking the comparatively spacious bus. Despite it being 530am the driver began blasting rock and roll hits like Bryan Adams. He told me it should make me feel at home. This long journey always puts me in touch with the experience of living in a different country. Apart from food, road/train/boat/& plane trips are great ways of reading a culture, the best reason to travel.

Here's an excerpt from my journal...some of it illegible for the bumping.


Like the rain, the music comes
whether I like it or not
the notes work on me, like scalpels on
an anesthetized patient

The termite mounds
the houses the color of earth
the mango trees promise fruit

the confident smile of the pregnant mother
concentrated on the life inside her

the upside down chickens
the papaya trees no longer look ridiculous
and black muscles
stand out through tatter windows

the sky gave us rain the other day
salving the ground
the women open it with their hoes

Dogs with ribs jump out from in front of the bus - a pathetic look on their face: "Why me?"
mangoes hang from umbilical cords
once they were too many
now they're a gift

baby goats like toys
papaya trees seem dignified
banana groves isolated and shocked, parched
termite mounds as tall as the banana trees

the house's baby blue door
musters all the color it can
women sitting in the house's yard, gathered, enduring

The respectable gentleman in blue button down coat
Newsboy cap and red sunglasses sits across from me
The elderly husband smacks his young (2nd wife?)'s arm
Her breast hangs out for her crying infant to take
He wears a baseball cap with confederate flag and motto: 'Get R Done.'
His child looks at me wide eyed
drinking in the muzungu (that's me)

a baboon in a bare tree high up, distant
a baboon large as a dog turns to the bus' honk
bored, probably thinking about food

boy selling goat kebabs
a half side of goat hoisted to the high window, rejected
We pass a sign for the 'God Exists' pharmacy
Our bus is surrounded by vendors
Surely the white man will buy something!

Sunday, November 20, 2011


I'm but a day away from my flight home to the states. I've learned to travel light here. I've a week's worth of clothes in my backpack, some poetry and spiritual readings make for light weight reading material, and the rest is my wire artwork and a coconut palm broom. That's good cuz I'm down to my last 200 mets and think I'll be huffing it to the airport and back instead of a 300 met taxi ride.

It's a momentous thing to be at the one year mark of my service. I left site with my duffle bag balanced on my head, sweating a storm, jumping streams and passing cattle, waiting for canoes, greeting locals. There's a feeling of accomplishment there.

In Mambone across the river I stayed with Saffiya and Kate. We encountered a giant scorpion spider with fangs like tusks. I ate unripe mangoes that tasted like lemons and we talked about life her side the river.

A neighbor of hers was found recently in the river, murdered. Another friend passed away from AIDS some days before that. Then yesterday I got word that my student's 1 year old daughter died in the hospital after fighting full body burns for a month and a half - some kind of allergic reaction, not caused as I first thought by hot water or fire.

Celeste, her mother, is a modest, beautiful, slender woman who travels each day to school by canoe to get to school. I've worked hard to motivate her to learn and had her over my place a few times for tutoring. I gave her vaseline along with advice on burn treatment out of my 'Where there is no Doctor,' guide, but now I see it wasn't superficial burns but something much more serious. The child wasn't eating for a time. Saffiya had visited her in the hospital a few times and last week said she was getting better. Now the family is dealing with her death. It's just awful to think of.

Two weeks ago, my best friend from Romania, her brother, an active basketball coach, fell into a coma following a brain anyeresum. They operated and it seemed he was doing better, but a week later he passed.

This was a family I spent three Christmas dinners with. Emi and Iulia and her mother would all play guitar and sing in their cramped kitchen. Their family is just wonderful. Emi encouraged me to play basketball with him. Afterwards he was all compliments despite my inexperience and insecurity. He touched many kids lives in Ocna and was incredibily energetic. I can clearly imagine the cemetary down the road where so many will have gathered for his funeral. The day of the dead, people leave candles and flowers and in the nighttime you can see the hill illuminated. It's beautiful. I regret I'm not there amongst the mourners sharing in the Huiculescu's grief.

I've come to Mozambique to get away from the Internet and have been successfully isolated from the world's trials and tribulations. When the tsunami hit Japan for example, I didn't read or hear much about it. I only learned about it through a friend. But, here crime and death seem to come closer at hand. Here, a bad case of malaria in three days can kill an otherwise healthy 23 year old. Here a child dying in birth is a too real possibility.

Speaking with a student, he asked if I was married yet or had children. When I responded that though I was old to be single for a Mozambican, for an American 31 isn't too old to yet be with family. He remarked: we Mozambicans marry young. And we die young. Hard to know what to say about such uncomfortable truths. Mozambicans are a fit group of people. Incredibly so. But poverty makes them vulnurable.

So...that's what I'm ending on.

I've been awful lucky to travel and relax during these weeks off, and perhaps I'll write more about that once I'm back in the states with more time to discuss that.
But for now, I'm just sad.

Monday, October 31, 2011

How does the water smell? or Micah vs. Boy's Dormitory

In the words of Little Richard: "A whop bob a loo bop, a whop bam boom."

The length of time between when I last wrote you all, all the dry changing of events, all the new insights, all the considered blog topics passed's hard to find a transitive opening statement, and so, as always some kind of nonsense helps put everything in order. Because, really, does any of it matter?

I'll try to shrink wrap my life's experriences, day to day, and life directions and observations into the smallest possible format.

1. Glee. I watched it all night. Great fun. How far we've come that a same sex kiss on prime time tv isn't the news breaking stuff of five or ten years ago. It's immensely gratifying to see someone like you represented in mainstream media.

2. School's over! Only this last semester do I really feel comfortable. I'm not great yet, but not terrible. It's been a learning experience.

3. English Theatre Competition: We took 2nd place & Best Actor! It's one of the best things I've done in service thus far. Peace Corps Volunteers are great. The whole event went super well because everyone is willing to jump in and help out. At the end everyone came onstage to dance. The stage shook with stomping feet and it was a sense of joy shared by all. Free tshirts, new dictionaries, soda, chicken, a hotel stay...placing in the competition is good, but the kids love the event even if they don't. I squeezed into the back of a pickup truck with 15 other kids for the 6 hour ride home. Got a little sunburned. We stopped and picked up lizard roadkill to cook later.

4. The cafeteria: for the last three and a half weeks of school I've been supervising lunch and dinner. When Abel or John aren't there supervising it can sometimes feel like Lord of the Flies. A lot of the systems they had at the beginning of the year seem to have broken down this last semester. I've tried to help out by getting the students to stand in lines, bring the tables and chairs inside, to get them to push chairs in, etc. Simple stuff, but considering the circumstances it feels revolutionary.

5. The dormitory: I've tried helping out too with problems of discipline - getting wood, fighting... If the kids don't gather wood saturdays there's no fuel to cook and they all miss out on a meal. I've taken to instituting push ups and the like to get kids to correct their behavior. The headmaster sometimes uses corporal punishment in the dormitory, so I'm hoping to show that with greater accountability, consistency, and imagination discipline can be achieved without violence.

So...if my blog is a fishbowl, there are some flakes scatterred for you, on the water's surface. The environment in this emails narrow confines are as expansive, and the food about as nutricious or substantive, though slightly colored. I'm sorry you are all goldfish in my analogy. Would you prefer 'chum' and you are all ravenous, terrible, though magnificent Great White Sharks? And my blog is just some of the water in the sea, hinting at its vastness? So be it. You are all Great White Sharrks.

I hope this finds you all well, receiving my greatest wishes for your day to unfold in the best possible way.



Friday, September 2, 2011

Boobs, Up there, My Best Dance Party

Hello Good Family & Friends,

My distance from you all I can only mitigate by this thin thread of communication. And it’s a thin thread indeed.

However! I’ve secured, with some wrangling, my home leave ticket and month + vacation time home! Thank you, thank you Peace Corps! 2000.00 ticket and more then a month’s worth of vacation? Not bad. Not bad at all.

I will be back Nov. 23 for Thanksgiving and staying until a day or two after New Year’s! Can’t wait to see you all.

Ok. So, this blog I’m prepared with topics. Here’s at them:


They are out and nourishing children. Everywhere and often. We all start off that way, yet drinking it from a carton makes more sense to us these days then that original fount! But here, no. I attended a conference recently, my first that had a small baby in attendance, with mother. His head was round like a cabbage. A very cute kid. She came to accept her diploma at the end with him there nursing. Absolutely Awesome!

Lunar Eclipse

My friend gave me a heads up as dusk fell. I grabbed the handheld scope Patrick left behind and went door to door telling people to come out and see. The telescope was a big hit. I had to help them balance it, but their reactions to seeing moon close up was great. “BIG!!!” One kid ran away after looking he was so shocked. It was spontaneous and one of those ‘Peace Corps Moments.’

Up There

I’ve said before how everything gets thrown up on the head, here. It’s their trunk. To date I’ve seen a 20” TV screen on a woman’s head, a plastic table upturned and balanced as the man rode his bicycle, one hand keeping it secure. I’ve seen boat motors on shoulders, giant tubs with about 15 ceramic pots wrapped up, 5 gallon jugs of water, 45 lb. sacks of flour or rice. They do this at any age, walking through mud barefoot, often with a baby on their back. You may see a mother with a 5 gallon bucket on her head and her 6 year old with a gallon jug on her head. The kids too do double duty carrying their little brothers and sisters on their backs. What’s best though is when it’s something small. A medium sized pumpkin, a compact umbrella, or their hoe as they make their way to their ‘machamba.’, They even put their purses up there. I’ve carried some things this way (a pot of soup!), and it really is easier then carrying with your arms, giving the weight over to your back.

My most fun night
During training I stayed with a host family. What a great family. Lots of brothers who all like to laugh and play cards and blast Rick Ross. (If you don’t know who that is, consider yourself lucky). If you do, then you know “He’s the biggest boss that you’ve met thus far.” My favorite night, we had a dance party. Just four of us. Playing Michael Jackson’s Greatest Hits. Dancing with my little host sister, 6, Joao, Armando. UB40. The Police. We just broke it down and it was such great fun. The bare bulb. The stone walls, spinning my little host sister and just sweating up a storm.

So, I’ll end here leaving a short blog for once. Leaves me with some topics for the future.

Hope you’re all well and enjoying what remains of summer.



Sunday, August 14, 2011

Tragedy, Goats, Church

I’m ever writing down blog topics, but I find myself in my rare opportunity to access the World Wide Web without my list. I’ll attempt to hit some targets from memory.
The first two events stand out in sharp relief.
1. Tragedy & the inevitable comparisons of unequal access to health facilities

The afternoon began with my learning of a friend’s baby, born dead. She was large and past due. We all awaited its birth. My first thoughts were for her health. Is she alive? She is. Thank goodness. I went straightaway to her. This woman was friends of a good friend of mine. We've become closer since. She is in good economical standing compared to others in the community. A shop owner with many employees. Yet, here she was, like everyone else in Machanga – deprived access to machines or medicine that could have forestalled this ‘act of God.’ Which is how she took it. “God did not want me to have this child. I have three children and that’s enough, isn’t it?” she asked me hopefully. “Maybe next time I will die too. I am lucky.” Such grace and acceptance is maybe at times in short supply in the US because solutions are closer at hand. We understand that culpability means systems improve. Her attitude however, compensates for circumstances outside her control. Her family and the community circled around her and I tried too to add my compassion to share in her and her husbands’ loss.

I told her after fetching her phone credit from town I could not meet her again until the following day. I had a dinner guest. Later that night, asking a friend for carrots, he tells me Gestor, my night's guest, had been in a terrible motorcycle accident, badly injuring both his legs. He had been brought into the hospital 5 minutes after I’d left. As I ate the dinner I'd prepared us, I looked across the table and felt dread. I've since visited him in Beira & learned he will be able to walk again but not for some time. When I visited Gestor, his wife was giving him a sponge bath in bed. One could argue, that nurses should have that responsibility, but I found her care touching.

The lack of conditions here are more or less equally felt. Maybe that is why, instead of resentment or spite, there is acceptance of God’s will. Which, in the short term, is a salve to suffering, if not detrimental to things getting better in the long term.

2) Travel to Beira and silly transport.

I know I always talk of travel – but I garner funny sights to share. On my packed 6am-4pm bus ride home last time,the woman beside me got pooped on by a cute, drooling, diaperless baby. She wiped it off her shoe uncomplainingly and the cobrador helped her.

I saw 2 goats strapped onto the back of a bicycle. I only turned my head when I heard one of the goats terrible plea. I saw it a moment before it was gone, its' mouth open and crying loudly. What an odd sight! It recalls to memory the sight of four chickens hanging upside down from a kid's bicycle handles. Priceless. They carry chickens as readily as we do backpacks. In the chapas as we get settled in, they squak in defiance, accustomed to having their freedom to run around. Like the rest of us, they usually settle in and cease their noisome protests.

Today. Today was filled with diverse experiences.

Catholic Church: A big big church for the ordination of a priest. 5 hours of incense and speeches broken up (thankfully) by a soulful chorus, African drums,and women in matching capalanas and headscarves softly gesturing and shuffling forward in unison. The ceremony was punctuated by heartfelt ululations (yiyiyiyiyiy!) from the chorus and warm gestures from the priests colleagues. The priests made a long procession and one after the next, kissed the palms of those three newly ordained and took them in large embrace. The music and their joy was so infectious that the ceremony's tedium was peeled back to reveal the sanctity of the occasion, the apex of 10 years’ education, the beginning of a career of service, a taste of the compassion their vocation exists to inspire.

After another 45 minutes of waiting around, I went to the yaht club to meet a friend. The YAHT Club! Later me and my friend went to have drinks with pilots who told me about pilot things. Later, ignored in conversation I went off to listen to the jazz pianist who was playing, largely ignored. He played unaccompanied, set to buttons that had recorded certain beats. The last he improvised bent with a secret smile on his lips and his upright back showed to this viewer, he wasn't playing for the 5 bucks he earned from the night's performance.

The night before, I'd learned a volunteer friend of mine is also a jazz pianist. How we all hide away our passions, and often, once living them, are ignored. But then again, we don't have our passions for anyone but ourselves.

After that, Cybelle and I, on a whim, stopped at a church service in an outdoor (small size) stadium. I wanted to see the enormous cake she said would be served to commemorate their 10th anniversary. What shocked me instead of huge cake was my witnessing for the first time, humans: ‘catch the spirit.’ I watched, both slightly concerned as one woman shaking so fell on an overturned chair. Really, if they’re going to rouse people into states where they may fall over, they should put down mattresses. That would be fun.

The cameraman found my white, studious face and projected it on the big screen. Everyone loves to be on the big screen. While the priest exhorted the crowd to ‘Raise your hands!’ I folded mine. (the camera quickly moved on not to return) Instead I concentrated on his words. Most of which I mainly agreed with. But, to show that passion in front of others is not my way. The more you show your righteous feeling, the greater I imagine would be the shame when you fall from it. I know, there's no shame in honest transgression, human frailty. It's just not my way.

The evening ended with their serving an enormous cake, large enough to feed a stadium. The church encourages lots of good things: to give instead of receive, to dream, to live independently, to live in brotherhood. Their style for me is culture shock. What they’d experience I imagine, seeing a mosh pit at a heavy metal show or a field full of hippies clouded in a blue haze of smoke. We are all alive with praise for living in our own ways.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Some Anecdotes & Observations

Here I am.

Ok. This time I come awfully prepared. I have topics for y’all pre-selected.

1. Toys. Kids make the darndest toys here. And it’s colonial era and modern mixed together. The old hoop and stick? Still quite popular! Only, it’s a metal bicycle hoop or rubber tire. Tops? Great fun! They spin them off string tied to stick. They use little blocks of wood as cell phones. Use soda cans and bend wire to make trucks, or put bottle caps on containers to make cars. Quite inventive. And they’re awfully unsupervised. You’ll see a 1 year old hanging off a 4 year olds’ back. Packs of the littlest kids, all it seems, taking care of each other. 5 and 6 year olds the babysitters. You see a 3 year old walking by himmself. Where? You don’t know. And kids work here. 4th graders, 5th graders, 6th graders...selling phone credit or pushing your canoe.

2. Status Symbols in Mozambique: the other teachers invest in such things as: motorbikes for tooling about town, big freezers, tvs, nice shoes, expensive phones, and maids to help cook and clean. I avoid most of those costs and save quite a bit of money as a result. It's wierd being surrounded by poverty and looking over the guy in front of you in some aluminum taxi can of death fingering a fancy blackberry phone.

3. Tried sugarcane. Bought a tall piece. Seeing me fumble with it, trying to tear with my teeth the thick rind, a grandmother stepped in and with expert incisors ripped into it like a professional panda. It hurt my teeth just watching her. Then she handed it to me laughing. It’s quite pulpy and sweet. I chomped and spat as we crossed by canoe, quite charmed at having been suddenly adopted.

4. One night I was pumping water under the usual domey sky. These two teenagers close by were giggling, huddled over a cell phone. Strange sounds carried. Yes, it sounded a lot like pornography. But they were laughing. Can they watch videos on their phones? Is it possible it is what it sounds like? They were just yucking it up! Kids. And technology! Remade the world's economic reality. And brought our vices to project on tiny screens. Look how crazy those white people are!

5. One day at the market a woman asked me about how I arrived in country. I told her how I stayed with a host family to learn Mozambican ways, such as washing clothes by hand. She asked: how do you do it in your country? I answered: ‘Oh, with machines to wash them! Then, we take them out and put them into another machine to dry!” I thought she'd be rather impressed. Instead, she answered incredulous: ‘You don’t have the sun there?”

6. Patrick protested when he saw our bike mechanic club a poor chameleon to death. “You know, in the States people will spend over 100.00 dollars to buy one of those,” he said. Confused, the mechanic asked: “To eat?”

7. I know I’ve spoken before about jogging, but not necessarily about scaring little kids. It’s almost better then when the kids cheer and run alongside me. They’re sitting there in the dirt, look up, and their reaction is priceless. I imagine their thought is something like. ‘Whoa.’ Before the tuck tail and run as fast as they can up the path and around their house to hide. I am finally the friendly monster I’d always hoped to be.

8. Sometimes I feel I’m in the (non existent) Mozambican postcard: for instance, taking a canoe ride across the river with a sky filled with stars. Then, I feel I’m clear on the other side the planet. Then, other times, feels I’m just around the block. Like when I see everyday, NY (Yankees) hats on everyone. Or I love NY. Or a CT little league baseball jersey. I told the clerk - I’m from there! She said: ‘Buy it.’ I said- it has a huge mustard stain on it! I’ve seen UCONN shirts and crass American humor: ‘Tis the season to get hammered.’ There’s hand made tshirts from summer camp, pep boys shirts, even a UPS shirt on one of my students. It’s like Mozambique is the little brother that inherited the clothes we grew out of .

9. I know I may well describe a real dearth of conditions here, but really, Mozambican laugh so much. Much more then Americans, Romanians, or any other people I’ve ever met. They sometimes get loud and shout. Like when I told them they had to take another test because everyone cheated on their final exam. They were ready to burn me in effigy. The next day, I see one of the most pissed of my students: “Hi Mr. Micah!” I’d like to think this is due to my irrepressible likeability, or maybe even begrudging respect for nailing their cheap attempts at duping me. But really, it’s just that Mozambicans don’t stay mad! It’s not in their national make up.

10. Last one. One of the best parts of travel is hearing the funny sounds different cultures make to show emphasis. This last anecdote you’ll have to hear. I can’t quite describe it. In Romania, ‘Hey Man!’ Is ‘BAH MUHHH!’ Here, when people wish to express incredulity, they say: ‘SHEE!’ They also like to say things are little: “Little, little, little!!!” and their voice gets as tiny as they can make it. What most of us grossly dislike however, is the unintelliglbe: ‘Uh.’ ‘Uh,’ depending on its’ inflection can me ‘Uuh’ (yes) or ‘Uh.’ (no). There’s also a lot of nose clearing that goes on, but I forgive them that. They are a Kleenex-less society. Not to mention a cheeseless society. I mentioned that before, I think.

So, there’s some anecdotes for you to masticate. (I mean chew on). Like cud!

Warm Regards,

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Time, Travel, Dreams, Memory

I’m back, I’m back, I’m back.

Time, Travel, Dreams, Memory

I arrived in Mozambique in October. I’ve been in Machanga since December. That works out to 10 months in country, and 7 months at site. Coming into the big city today, I was struck by the apartments. After all this time, my eye is accustomed to the mud and straw roof houses that surround our school. Little things remind me that I am not at home.

We pass 6/7, more phone towers. Two of them had smokey cooking fires next to them and women pounding corn. A few cars on the road, and my director exclaimed: ‘lots of traffic Sunday!’ A car races ahead – my thought: ‘What a hurry!’


Taking a car into Beira is a luxury. Space to stretch my legs. I’m amazed that I missed the chapa – (the bush taxi). My first trip to Beira I was plauged with Scabies attempting to drug myself with allergy medication to numb the itching. Cramped in with 20 other people, & little room (an airline seat is spacious in comparsion) , I dozed in and out of sleep, hot and uncomfortable. Upon arriving in Beira, seems when I went to take a piss in the straw outhouse (where to pee with no hole in the ground?), someone stole my phone. The ride back from Beira too was cramped, but thankfully my belly was uncomfortable making my scabies a secondary problem. So, I started off hating Chapas.

But then I got my systems in place that made travelling more comfortable: travel light: lots of underwear to change, one pair of pants (wearing them), one coat (to sit on), one book, a journal, and toothbrush. that’s it. The chapas are loud, but everyone is amiable. I see that the cobrador who is in charge of collecting money and assigning seats has an infinitely hard job and will have back pains the rest of his life –but, his is an honest living. I am hustled in there, with the babies, the corn, the chickens, the cheery talkative drunks, the blaring music. It’s very African, and the spirit is high.

A short episode.

We stop to pick up some four standing on the side of the road. Sound of the door sliding open. Looking down, I see the man has no shoes. His shirt hangs off his shoulders in tatters. But, this is a cheerful departure and their poverty is right now no concern. He is handing off packages. She is getting loaded in with a giant sack of corn meal and a baby. The older brother has his eyes to the window peering in, saying goodbye to baby brother. I look over the seat in front of me. The drunken man in front of me is engrossed in a racing game on his touch screen phone. The cobrador is chomping on a corn cob that gets tossed out the door. The music is blaring, the bass thumps, the door slides shut and we are racing again; slalomming potholes in our solo race. It’s so old and new and African and I’m in it, changed by it, & now, complicit.


I have odd dreams, some caused undoubtedly as a side effect from my weekly malaria meds, but some due to home sickness. I dreamed I returned home to comfort my dog as he died. I dreamed I arrived home just in time for my friend’s wedding – a parade from the airport, and me without my costume (my imagining the great time I would miss), hugging my father after he had a leg amputated. Dreams of my passed grandmother. Dreams of my nephew. I dreamed I toured Obama’s bedroom and saw his bed and closet and felt it incorrect that he and his family in the White House have no privacy.


Being away makes past good memories shine, emotions of years settle into recognizable forms, and values come out in strong contrast.

These bared emotions time’s brought into focus leaves me with a strange unspoken feeling of what my life has been. This poem describes it.

Behind the curtain it is / all the world’s poets have attempted to describe / all the world’s artists in hue and curve sought to capture /authors have tried telling it through the behaviour and meaning in a story’s arc/wise men have enfolded it into parables/ The mother holds her baby to her chest trying to be close to which she loves so dear. Behind the curtain, it smiles, laughing to itself, holding its sides laughing more, silently, barely able to breathe. They don’t know. They don’t know. I am not that. I am not that. Oh, I am more. Oh, they can’t even imagine all that I am, all at once.

I’m just talking about all of you who are reading this who may think of me sometimes as I think of you, as you think of those we share in common and those whom you’ve only told me about. My grandmother, my grandfather, those who have passed, those times we spent drinking coffee practicing the art of conversation, those silly fights healed by the platelets of love that always heal. It’s the understanding we’ve always had, and the life you’re living now that I don’t know, and the one I’m living that you don’t know. It’s the faults and qualities you recognize in me when we meet again telling you, oh, it’s still Micah, and, oh, he’s changed, it’s not this whom I once knew.

It’s the remembering of good times, and the trying to remember other times. What did we talk about? It’s the stumbling upon good times forgotten. It’s reading books and some days later recalling a line that fits what it is I’m trying to understand. It’s taking glasses to my past, trying different prescriptions. Which is better? Number 1? Number 2? Number 1? Number 2?

It’s new friends telling me what I felt but didn’t know(good advice!). It’s being overwhelmed by the amount of memory I’ve stored up. It’s the opportunity to read yet, books, voices from bodies long since deceased that have spoken to millions but never before to me. It’s living in southern africa, but traveling through pages in trains through blizzards from Moscow to St. Petersburg with Anna Karenina. It’s 1800-something.

It’s those things.

And it’s realizing, 10 months is really a very long time!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Mozambique Letter #4

Hello! Hello.

It seems that the gulf between here and there grows with each passing day making it harder and harder to summarise things. And yet, here is a chance to tell you all, I'm in front of a computer screen at last, so here goes a spontaneous composition.

Am indeed ankle deep in this Mozambique stuff now.

I'm halfway through the second semester of three in teaching 11th grade English. This week, took off on Tuesday, with my colleague agreeing to cover my Thursday classes. I left for tourist heaven: Vilanculos, with my good bud Priscilla. It's Priscilla's last month in country before she leaves our town of Machanga for her home in Sao Paulo, Brazil. She is a Mennonite Volunteer living at a girls' dormitory in Machanga. Machanga's quite small and we're the two muzungus there. Besides circumstances, we've built a really nice friendship! Time is forever widening the gulf of circumstances between us - family and friends, but fortunately, there are always new souls, kindred spirits that come into the picture. And what a blessing they are. I am happy to introduce her to beautiful Vilanculos and to Camila who is another volunteer and friend living here. Camila and I have really hit it off as well, so I was really happy for these two to meet one another and for us to spend glorious time here, eating, watching movies, and so forth. Every time I come here I end up having dinner with someone from Argentina, Spain, France...Always interesting company. And Camila's home is beautiful. She and I have similar attitudes about food, that it a communal aspect of friendship and comfort. In short, it's always great fun coming here.

Yesterday was Priscilla's birthday. We paid 2000 mets. (70 dollars?) to take a boat out with two nice couples, on out to the islands around Vilanculos. There is a reef around one such island that we went snorkleing in. After a great meal made on the boat and served on shore, and Priscilla learned to relax in the water (her first time snorkeling) it was glorious. I felt I was inside the aquarium with the water flow and all. Every look down into the water revealed a new kind of fish. And there's one I saw in the guidebook! Three colors! I floated into a giant school of them, and their indifference made me feel like a large fish, in strange incognito. Strange how such delicate flowers grow on the hard corral. I got a circular cut on my arm (a souvenir) that bled bright red. Where else can one get a circular cut? I told Priscilla I feel like in Machanga I'm pretending to be poor and here I felt I was pretending to be rich. The company dispelled this feeling. The two couples and crew greatly added to the adventure. One was a cute couple from the Canadian Rockies. He is a mountain guide and she a cook for geological expeditions in the Ukon. They asked me what Romania was like, and after gushing about it for some minutes I finished. "Thank you!" I said. Being here, I really haven't had a chance to speak about my time in Romania. My friends there became extended family and the country thusly became very dear to me. An opportunity to speak about it was a great relief. I was writing some letters to friends there some months back and finished realized for some hours I was there in Romania with them. It's amazing how imagination, technology, and mail can have that effect. And yet, as the days pass by, children grow up. My cousins' kids will be 10 before I've had 2 conversations with them. My nephew is already a toddler, those infant years behind him. So, while we remain connected, and imagination and cell phones shrink distances, there is still the chasm of distance that leads my path further from the home and the friends I know. But, enough nostalgia and contemplation. Back to our trip.

The other two were a German couple who had spent 6 years living in Virginia and the last 6 in South Africa. He was a Science teacher there. One of their children was born there and has thus dual citizenship.

It's amazing how much of the world has a connection to 'my' country.

So, best wrap this up.

About the snorkeling: it was like being a star floating among constellations. The fish seemed drugged in their responses to what was surely an alien invader. As I bumped and scraped against the corral trying to make like a jet flying (all of one yard underwater) amongst deep corral canyons, I realized how ridiculous and ill suited I was made for this terrain.

About Machanga and school: kids are learning. Rediscovering levity as I get comfortable in my teaching style. I've been playing games again as I used to with my kindergardeners in Romania. Everyone it seems loves games and candy. It's especially helpful with my night class. They get awfully antsy as the sun sets and it helps to have something active for them to do.

I'm hoping to take a cue from Prisicilla and move into the dorm on campus and eat what they eat/ live their conditions some. Really, isolated as I am in the teacher's compound, I feel comparatively wealthy, which is not my aim. With the boys, I'll be eating corn meal and beans everyday and have less privacy, but as trade off, greater integration, comaraderie, and hopefully initiative to see projects through that benefit them.

I'll let you know how it goes when next I check in.

Until then,

yours sincerely,


Friday, June 10, 2011

Mozambique Letter #3

Mozambique Letter #3

Ok...Hope you all got the photo links below available on my facebook page. All taken during Oct. -Dec. in Pre Service Training, time spent with my fantastic host family.

Since then, my camera and laptop have died. Sorry, but little I can do.

Well, what news, recollections, word play might I shoot out at this late hour?

Recollections from the month behind me.

1. Finally spent a weekend at the dormitory. They eat corn meal polenta with beans everyday. I asked one of my students as we passed - ¨rice and beans for dinner it seems!¨ His response: (in perfect English) "Everyday the same fucking thing!" It was tolerable for one meal. I can~t imagine it for lunch and dinner everyday of the week. Until this past week, they~ve been eating in the dark with no light bulbs for the cafeteria. At least the stars are pretty. On the upshot, they really appreciated my staying there. I headed with them in the morning out to the matu to chop wood and carry back. On Friday nights they play music and dance in the courtyard until it~s 9pm curfew and lights out. They~re very good dancers, cheering each other on.

2. Had a great time sharing games with the kids. They~re doing a talent show every Sunday now - which is essentially glorified Karioke, but you can~t hear their voices over the soundtrack. But, they dance and everyone cheers them on as they bustamove. People come up and put money in their pockets or fling packeted condoms at them that they got for free from the hospital. I heard about football players using condoms to hold their socks up. Rest assured. Mozambicans have access to condoms. Afterwards, I~m leading games - like hoops on bottles, frisbees at targets, knock the cans and limbo. The kids would answer a true or false question about AIDS and get to play. If successful, a candy their prize. Even something small and symbolic like this means a lot to them. These kids are very ready for a good time. Really, Mozambicans in general don~t get angry, and if they do, they~re always one break away from a laugh.

3. This past week was an all around success. I had one day that left me feeling like super volunteer. Up at 5 am to jog for 30 min. Home to sweep and mop out the dust. Pushups. Jumping rope. Meditation. To the garden to attack the enormous termite mound. Inside combs, like in a hive. I saved them. People asked - what for? I shrugged my shoulders - I don~t know! But they~re very cool. I had an audience as I whacked away at this five foot thing. Really, you don~t need to do much to attract an audience here. Later that day I got my peanuts (plentiful here) and sought out a neighbor with mortar and pestle. For 45 minutes worked at pilaring peanut flour. This requires sifting too. I am the integration king. And yes. It~s women~s work.~ Why don~t you get a woman to do that stuff for you? my neighbor asks? But, I did not come here to have servants. With no dependents, no maid, no money spent on beer, and little travel, my costs are low and I am left feeling in this poor community quite wealthy. I am going to try and start eating at the dormitory more and putting my money back into the school. With the kids I feel integrated; appreciated. The teachers have their own lives and duties. In the teachers community I can spend the whole day in my house, quite isolated. A visit can be bothersome. But, with the kids, I feel like I~m where I should be. We~ll see where this goes, but it~s already showing promise in my burgeoning relationships with my students.

4. Great classes. Getting my mojo back. In Romania in front of kindergarten classroom audiences I was a circus ringmaster, clown, and acrobat rolled into one English Teaching Machine. The children laughed. Applauded. I gave them stickers and candy and they loved me for it. On the streets, riding my bicycle they would call out, kids throughout many neighborhoods. Now I teach 20 year olds. Classes of 64/69. You can understand if I~ve lost some of my tap dancing confidence. Now that I know many of their names and can call them out when they~re running their yap when I~m trying to talk, I~ve regained some of that composure. I~m more cocksure. I can kid now that I can scold (effectively). Outside of class I~m having fun conversations with the high achievers and now, some of the lower achievers too. I~m beginning to reach more and more and it takes time.

Last one.

5. Food. No cheese, but coconut milk and papayas and peanuts galore. Everything is awesome with coconut milk in it. You grate the thing then pour warm water over the gratings and squeeze, squeeze, squeeze. Sooo good. Use it to cook in whatever. It~s good on wood shavings. Trust me. This past two weeks made tomato peanut curry with coconut milk and another night pasta with spicy peanut and garlic sauce. Mmm. Food. 11 year old Frisbee playing savant, Nandu who despite being the Superintendant~s son goes most nights without dinner, has learned if he hangs out long enough at my place, I~ll feed him. My revenge is I~ll teach the kid Englishuwhile I cook and maybe send him on an errand here and there. Good kid, that Nandu. And just nasty on the frisbee field. The kid doesn~t talk much, preferring pantomime when possible, but get him on the frisbee field and the kid~s all business taking on others twice his height and leaving them in the dust. Seriously. He~s better then me.

So. That~s the large and small of it.

Other anecdotes to come as they occur and internet access makes itself available.

So close this 140 am mass email. And off I to sleep.

Night all. Goodnight Jesse.