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!