Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

It’s Christmas Eve here and I am preparing for a very unique Christmas.  It doesn’t feel at all like Christmas—it’s hot, there are no Christmas decorations, and I’m not with my family for the first time in my life.  Tomorrow about 9 other volunteers from the area are coming to Zobue for Christmas dinner with Emma and me.  We will do a white elephant gift exchange and hopefully sing some carols.  We don’t have much for decorations so I copied what my friends Sam and Caitlin did in Cuamba and drew a tree on our wall with chalk.  Even though it won't be my typical Christmas, I think it will be a good one.
Our tree!

We are preparing to make chicken (I bought 5 live chickens today and carried them by their feet all the way to my house as they flapped and squawked—that was a first), rice and beans, and mango salsa/salad.  I’m also hoping to make an apple cake for dessert.  I made banana muffins the other day which were delicious so I have high hopes for the apple cake.  I bought the live chickens, but am not up for killing them myself so our friend Marcos Leme is going to kill them for us and bring them (hopefully all cut up and ready to cook) tomorrow.  He and his wife Servina, daughter Marnela (2 years), and baby Suneila (2 months) will also be joining us for Christmas dinner.  They are some of our favorite people so far in Zobue and have been incredibly welcoming and helpful.  I’m so glad I get to share Christmas with them.
Chickens on our porch.

Leme and Marnela. So adorable!

Talking to Mozambicans about Christmas has been very interesting.  Most have never heard of Santa Claus, which makes total sense, but took me by surprise.  I probably sounded like a crazy person as I tried to describe Santa Claus in Portuguese.  “So, there’s this guy who lives up in the very north of the world who has all these little people who work for him and they spend all year making toys for the kids of world.  On the day before Christmas this guy, Santa, gets into his cart and delivers toys to all the children.  Every house has a tree in it during this time of year and he puts the presents under the tree.  His cart is pulled by animals called reindeer…they are big animals that don’t usually fly but in this case they are magical and fly and pull his cart through the sky so he can deliver all the presents in one night.” Yeah, that definitely sounds crazy.  It’s so hard to describe something that is so pervasive in our American culture to someone who has no reference point whatsoever.  Definitely a challenge, but a fun one. 

Christmas in Mozambique is very different than in the states.  It is a holiday here and there is definitely a celebration, but it mostly consists of having a dinner with family members.  There are no Christmas decorations, no Christmas music, no Christmas parties, no stress to buy presents for everyone, and no rush to get everything done before the big day.  In some ways, it’s very nice to be out of the whole commercial Christmas frenzy.  They call Christmas “family day” here in Mozambique which I think is perfect in its simplicity.

Merry Christmas to everyone! Miss you all! Thank you so much for reading my blog--it's so encouraging to see that so many people are following my experience here in Mozambique.  I wish you all a great end of 2013 and an amazing start to 2014.

Thursday, December 19, 2013


So far the neighborhood criancas (children) have been our most consistent visitors.  It is rare when there aren't at least a few kiddos on our veranda at any given time.  Actually, right now there is a girl named Louisa calling "Emma" into the window. The kids haven't quite learned my name yet, usually they just call me "Emma" or sometimes a combination of our two names, "Siemma," which is pretty endearing.

The phrase to ask for something in Portuguese is "estou a pedir."  Literally, this means "I am asking for." Usually when the kids come to visit we hear one of these three things:

"estou a pedir foto" (they want us to take photos of them)
"estou a pedir folha" (they want paper and crayons to draw with)
"estou a pedir viola" (they want me to play guitar for them)

So, as you'd expect, I have lots of photos of these kids, have tons of their drawings, and have played a LOT of guitar.  Emma is probably getting pretty tired of the three songs I know how to play on the guitar: Wagon Wheel, Country Roads, and House of the Rising Sun.

Sometimes the kids can get annoying and I kick them out to have some "rest" time, but mostly they just make me laugh.

The other day it was raining hard and I went out onto the porch to see 5 naked children running through the yard.  Some had underwear on, but some were completely naked.  "Emma," I said, "there's a bunch of naked children in our yard."  As Emma came out onto the porch, about 10 more naked children ran up to our porch from the neighboring yard.  Now we had about 15 mostly naked, extremely soaked, children smiling, laughing, waving, and hanging on our porch.  They had such pure, innocent joy on their faces.  What is better than running naked in the rain?

The regular girls: Cecilia, Celene, Catarina, and Confianza

Sorry this picture is sideways...but this kid apparently knows my name!

This, I was told, is a ninja jumping over a table.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Capulanas are essential to life in Mozambique.  They are basically just large pieces of colorful cloth that Mozambicans use for absolutely everything.  They come in a plethora of patterns and colors and their potential uses are just as numerous.  They can be tailored into shirts, pants, dresses, skirts, bags or simply wrapped around the waist as an easy skirt.  Need to carry your baby but need your hands free?  Make a baby backpack with a capulana!  Want to decorate your house?  Hang some capulanas on the walls!  Need to cover the stain on your table? Throw a capulana on it as a tablecloth! Are you cold? Here's a capulana for a shawl.  Are you going to church and don't want your white clothes to get dirty? (The traditional church attire for women is a completely white outfit in a world of red dirt.)  Tie a capulana around your waist to keep clean. Carrying something heavy on your head and need a cushion?  Roll up a capulana.  Bad hair day? Just cover it up with a capulana headscarf! Capulanas can also be rags, napkins, pot holders, curtains, shower curtains, blankets, sheets, towels, and much, much more.  Right now my favorite use for a capulana is to soak it in water and use it as a cool sheet when I am trying to sleep in my hot room at night.

Culturally, capulanas are a symbol of modesty for women.  A woman wearing a capulana is socially acceptable.  Since bare knees are considered immodest, a capulana skirt is the easiest way to keep them covered.  Wrapping a capulana around the waist, even if it is covering pants or another skirt, is required for attendance at most funerals and other important events.  To dress up a capulana skirt, many women use matching capulana headscarves.  Capulanas patterns can also represent certain political parties, important events such as Dia da Paz, or serve an educational purpose.  I personally have capulanas with the map of Mozambique and the countries of Africa and I have seen designs with the alphabet and numbers as part of the pattern.

The first time I carried my baby sister in Namaacha with a capulana, I had a hard time tying it correctly.  My 8-year old sister couldn’t understand why I didn’t know how to tie it and I explained that we don’t have capulanas in the United States.  Her eyes got wide and she stared at me in disbelief.  “You don’t have capulanas?” she asked. It was the same disbelief I received when I put butter on my rice or told her that we don’t have xima in the states. (Xima, pronounced ‘she-ma’ is a traditional dish made from corn flour and looks a lot like mashed potatoes.  It is a staple of the Mozambican diet and is present at almost every lunch and dinner.) “No, we don’t have capulanas,” I said, “But I’ll definitely be bringing some home with me.  They are very useful.”

Emma (not my roommate Emma, the other one) and I modeling some capulana fashion.

Michaela, Maria and I with a capulana ground cloth and tailored pants. For the homestay celebration in Namaacha the host moms picked out this capulana pattern for all of us.

Baby carrier capulana.

Me wearing my favorite capulana skirt as we point out our towns on this road sign.  Heather and Tania live in Angonia and (of course) Emma and I live in Zobue.


Of the fruits I've eaten so far in Mozambique, it is a close race for my favorite between litchis and mangoes.  At this point, I think litchis are in the lead because they are much easier and less sticky to eat than mangoes.  Since I'd never seen one before coming here I thought I'd give a tutorial of how to each a litchi.
This is a litchi. They are ripe when they start to turn red.

Step 1: Break the litchi skin with your teeth or fingernails.

Step 2: Remove the skin and discard.

Step 3: Eat the litchi fruit around the pit.

Step 4: Discard the pit. Or throw it at your friend.

If you ever have the opportunity to eat a litchi, try it! I ate a lot of litchis in Maputo, but so far haven't seen any in Zobue.  Hopefully they turn up soon...I miss them.  At least there are lots of mangoes here.

Sunsets in Zobue

One of the houses I grew up in was in the mountains outside Anchorage and we could watch the sunset over the inlet every day.  I never really appreciated how special it was until I worked at a lodge in Idaho this summer.  The lodge was in a river canyon so we never got to watch the sunset and I thought, if I could choose, I would have a house where I could watch the sunset.  I never thought my very next house would fit that description! My favorite part about Zobue so far is sitting on my porch every evening and watching the sun set directly in front of me.  I can't believe I get to live here for two years.
Sunset on our first night in Zobue

Last night's sunset--I'm going to have a lot of sunset pictures by the end of two years!

Emma watching the sunset

It's even better to share sunset-watching with good people.  Here is Emma with Seni and Romao, two great young men.  They were good friends with the previous volunteers and are our best friends in Zobue so far.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

First Day in Zobue

We made it safely to Zobue! My first impressions are overall positive.  The landscape is beautiful, the people are friendly and welcoming, the temperature is manageable, the market is well-stocked, and the house is beginning to feel like home.  Here are some photos of life in Zobue, day 1. More posts to come once we've settled in a bit more.

The groups of kids that greeted us at the secondary school.

The group of neighborhood kiddos on our porch.  Cecilia, Confianza, and Catarina are the names I know so far.

Our house!

Our kitchen set-up

Part of our quintal (yard)

Our shower house and latrine
Dining room with our new pups Piro and Bwino.

Outdoor kitchen for cooking on the charcoal stove.

Shower house with our new rubber ducky shower curtain!

Our latrine...I should get some flower pots in there like my dad's outhouse in Denali.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Swearing In

On Tuesday we left Namaacha for Maputo and were officially sworn in as Peace Corps volunteers.  Many of you are probably thinking, wasn’t she already a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV)? Actually, no. I was just a Peace Corps Trainee (PCT).  Until I raised my right hand and repeated the oath after the ambassador I didn’t have the full status of a PCV.  Now that I switched my T for a V, I do.  Don’t ask me what the real difference is, because I’m not quite sure.  I just know they make a big deal about it.  The ceremony took place at the ambassador’s residence in Maputo. All 51 trainees wore clothes made of matching capulanas that we had gotten tailored in Namaacha (I’ve been meaning to write a post about capulanas…soon to come!). People wore vests, ties, dresses, shirts, skirts, etc. We joked on our way to the ceremony that we looked like a choir walking down the street in Maputo, and it was true. 
Here we are (at least the people that could fit in the frame) all dressed up for swearing in.
(photo courtesy of Sam)

The ceremony was short—only about an hour—and included speeches from the country director, the ambassador, and….yours truly! I was nominated by my peers to give the “graduation” speech in Portuguese during the ceremony. I was incredibly honored to be selected. I wrote the speech in Portuguese and worked with a language teacher to correct my errors.  I was extremely nervous, but I don’t think it showed in my voice when I spoke.  I’ve always been terrified of public speaking, but I actually kind of enjoyed it this time! I would attach a copy of my speech, but since it’s in Portuguese I guess I’ll just summarize. I talked about our experiences in training: what we learned, what we did, what we ate, etc.  Then I talked about what was next and the challenges that we face.  I ended with a comment about what an accomplishment it was to finish with training.  We completed 453 total hours of class in the last 10 weeks!
Here I am giving the speech...the woman in the background is the ambassador's wife.
(photo courtesy of Thelma)

Something very special about swearing in was that my friend Steph Newton from college was able to be there! She is just finishing up her service in Mozambique and happened to be in Maputo for her end of service activities.  It was so fun to see her!
Wellesley in Mozambique!

We spent Tuesday night in Maputo and on Wednesday flew to Chimoio, the capital city of the province of Manica.  We have been here for two days participating in a conference with the representatives from our schools and doing some shopping for our new houses. The director of the school in Zobue wasn’t able to make it, but he sent a representative from the school.  During the conference we talked about the history of Peace Corps, expectations for host schools and volunteers, etc.  It was pretty repetitious for us volunteers since we talked about all that stuff during training, but it is a good opportunity to help the host schools get on the same page with Peace Corps.  Tomorrow we head to Zobue! My life as a real Peace Corps volunteer is finally about to begin!  The next few days are going to be extremely overwhelming moving into a new house, meeting tons of new people, and trying to start our lives in Zobue.  I’m definitely nervous, but I’m also extremely excited to finally get to start what I came here to do.  Here we go!