Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Puto Kame: SIDA mata

Back in February of last year a student of mine, Gift, asked if I could help him make some music videos for songs he had written.  At the time I had no video editing software and only my small point-and-shoot camera, but we spent a day and recorded five different songs in various locations in my yard.  Nothing much happened for a long time after that, but in October I told him that I had recently gotten some video editing software.  For a few weeks we worked on editing some of his music videos and putting them on youtube.  Then I had an idea.  "Would you be interested in writing some songs about HIV or malaria?" I asked.  "Sure," he said, "but I have no money record the songs. It costs 350 meticais to record a song." "I can pay for the recording if you write the songs," I said.  350 meticais is about 12 dollars.  The next day he came to my house with the lyrics to his HIV/AIDS song and malaria song.  It was only a few days before I left for the states so I gave him some money to record one of the songs.  "When I get back, we'll make the music video," I told him.

A few days after I got back from the states Gift appeared at my house and played me his song.  He had chosen to record the HIV/AIDS song first.  A few days later we spent the morning making a music video to go with the music.  Here is a link to the video we made:

The title of the song is called SIDA mata, which means AIDS kills.  Here are the rest of the lyrics in English:
AIDS, AIDS, AIDS kills mama
AIDS, AIDS, AIDS kills papa
AIDS, AIDS, AIDS, kills friends 

Be careful with AIDS, it kills you
Be careful with HIV
If you play with AIDS papa, you will die young
If you play with AIDS mama, you will die young
If you play with AIDS brother, you will die young
AIDS kills

AIDS has no friends
AIDS has no family
Mama, use a condom to protect yourself
Papa, use a condom to protect yourself
Friend, use a condom to protect yourself

AIDS, AIDS, AIDS kills mama
AIDS, AIDS, AIDS kills papa
AIDS, AIDS, AIDS, kills friends

I am so proud of this project and happy for opportunity to spread awareness and information about HIV/AIDS.  I have heard that the HIV rate in Zobue is 30% (since it is a border town) and in Mozambique overall it is 12%.

Next project, malaria.

band photos

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


After many months of the dry season we finally got our first good downpour in Zobue.  This marks the beginning of the rainy season.  People in Zobue have been preparing their fields for months and will now plant their corn.  Hopefully it will be a good growing year with the right combination of rain and sun.  For the children of Zobue the first rainstorms are a fun novelty and a chance to play.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Mozambican smiles

In the United States and in a lot of other countries we are trained to smile for photographs.  Whenever someone is taking a picture, our automatic response is to smile--even if we don't necessarily feel like it.  In Mozambique, it is the complete opposite.  There are have been many times when people have been smiling widely until it is time to take their photo and then they immediately sober up and look extremely serious.  This is sad for me because many people I know here have such beautiful smiles, but it is almost impossible to catch them smiling in a photograph.  "Sega!" I tell them, "Smile!" (Sega is smile in Nyungue).  Despite my best efforts, my coaxing is rarely successful.  For example, a few days ago I gave away some presents to the neighbor kids and they were all smiles until I asked to take their photos.  Here they are with some of their presents:

The best smiles I see are after I've taken a photo of someone and am showing them the photo on my camera.  I wish I had another camera to capture them smiling at the photos on my camera.

Sometimes I try to sneak photos of people smiling.  Yesterday I gave an american flag hat to a friend of mine and he was so happy I really wanted to get a photo of him.  I snapped a photo while he was smiling and it turned out great:

Senhor Cebola modeling his hat.
I was happy with the photo, but he didn't like it and wanted me to take another photo of him.  He said I had "caught him with his teeth out."  This is the one he liked best:

Senhor Cebola's comment about catching him with his teeth out was interesting to me.  I had thought that Mozambicans' reluctance to smile for photographs was simply that they weren't used to having photos taken of them, but maybe there is more to it. Maybe they consider showing teeth to be impolite.  Maybe by not smiling for photos they are showing respect.  I'll have to ask my cultural consultants Silvia, Albertina, Leme, and Servina.

Friday, December 5, 2014

November travels

It's been almost a month since my last post because I've been living in an alternate reality called international air travel and a magical place called the United States.  In November I spent a few weeks in California and Alaska.  Did you know that you can get from Tete, Mozambique to Los Angeles in only 36 hours? Did you know that ALL the bathrooms at the Johannesburg airport are clean and always have flush toilets, toilet paper, running water, soap, AND paper towels or those hot air blower things to dry your hands? Did you know that people at the Dubai airport are respectful and quiet and don't play their music on their phones at maximum volume or have conversations in loud voices?

Also, in the United States when you go to a restaurant the waitress or waiter brings you water right away and takes your order in a timely fashion and you don't even have to wait 2 hours for your food! In the United States you can go to a grocery store and walk through aisles and aisles of SO MUCH FOOD! The vegetables are GIANT and there is so much variety! Broccoli, zucchini, red peppers, orange peppers, YELLOW peppers, eggplant, cauliflower, spinach, spring mix, herb spring mix, spinach and spring mix mix.  There are packaged vegetables already cut up just waiting to be steamed.  There are 10 types of hummus.  There are three different ways you can choose to buy your fresh basil.  On my first trip to the grocery store I was overwhelmed and I hadn't even gotten out of the produce section.

Life in Mozambique and life in the United States is very, very different, but surprisingly I didn't have as hard a time adjusting as I'd thought I would.  There were times I would exclaim about how different things were or when I was excited about a certain type of food (greek yogurt! cheese! tortilla chips! salsa! spring rolls! avocados! berries!), but overall it seemed like I was living in two separate realities and it was easy to adjust back to life in the United States.  For the past year I have been living in Mozambique and have gotten used to life without running water, toilet paper, and food variety, but I lived in United States for 24 years before that so when I was back in that environment it seemed pretty normal.

Another great thing about the United States (at least in the winter) is that it's cold!  I didn't sweat ALL the time! I could wear a sweater, jeans, socks, even a jacket, hat, and gloves! Also, there are almost no bugs and no dirt.  I could go a whole day (or a few days) without needing a bath.  Though I must admit, I did shower almost everyday because there is nothing better than a hot shower and then getting out and NOT sweating!

Though the food was great and the cold was wonderful, the best part of being home was seeing all my family and friends.  I wasn't able to see EVERYONE on this trip, but I was able to visit with a whopping total of at least 63 (give or take a few) friends and family members.  Thank you so much to everyone for taking the time to spend with me, even if it was only for a short time!  Knowing I have so many people at home who love and support me and are interested in what I'm doing is so important.  I'm incredibly thankful for all of you!

I am very grateful for the opportunity to be at home for a bit (thank you Dad!).  Leaving to come back to Mozambique was extremely hard.  I didn't want to leave.  The thought of leaving a place where I felt so comfortable (in all senses of the word) to return to a place where I feel uncomfortable (again, in all senses of the word) a lot of the time made me cry.  If I didn't have a trip planned to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in December I'm not sure I would have come back.

I'm now back in Mozambique.  I'm back in my village, back in my house, back to my neighbors and friends.  Back to sweating all day as my fan blows hot air at me.  Back to speaking Portuguese and trying to learn Nyungue.  When I arrived in Zobue the kids in my neighborhood yelled my name and my baby neighbor smiled and stretched out his arms to be picked up.  It was great to see my friends Leme and Servina and their daughters Suneila and Marnela again.  I was also happy to see my friends Silvia, Albertina, and the rest of their siblings.  In the days I've been back many people have greeted me happily saying, "You disappeared!" "Yes," I say, "I went home, but now I'm back."

I'll be here in Zobue for a few weeks, then I leave for my trip to Kilimanjaro.  In January I have a mid-service Peace Corps conference in Maputo and then school starts again in February.  I've thought a lot about whether I want to spend another year of my life as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mozambique.  I want to finish my commitment, but I know that if I am unhappy all the time I won't be a good volunteer.  Right now I'm taking it one day at a time.  If I can keep a good attitude about being here, I'll stay.  But if I am angry and frustrated all the time I won't be doing anyone any good here.  We'll see what happens once school starts.  Stay tuned.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Hot season is bug season!

Just a quick post about some interesting bug experiences I've had lately.  It seems like this time of year is definitely the time of year for crazy bugs--or else this week has just been unusually full of insect encounters.  Here is a list of some recent confrontations.  Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of these creatures because I'm usually too busy trying to kill them to snap a photo. Can you blame me?

1. At Quinta Monte on Monday we were sitting outside in a pavilion-style building with a grass roof when a huge bug started running all around the floor.  It looked like a combination between a spider and a scorpion, but instead of a curved tail it had two long horn-like things in the front.  It was maybe about 6 inches long. I didn't do anything at first, but when it started coming towards our table I got up, promptly took off my chaco, and started to whack at it.  Since it was so big it took a couple of good blows to finish it off.  It must have been an unusual insect because one of the waiters came over and took a picture of the corpse with his camera.  It happened pretty fast so I didn't get a very good look at it, but I think it may have been a camel spider.

2.  The next day Emma, Kevin, Amanda, and I were sitting at the table when someone noticed a large spider on the wall.  It was different than the usual daddylonglegs-like spiders that are constantly living in our light fixtures--those we have become so accustomed to that killing them seems unnecessary.  They eat bugs, right?  But this one was large, about the size of a half dollar, and flat.  In my memory it was hairy, but that could have been my imagination. Regardless, it warranted immediate killing.  It was up high in the corner between the wall and the ceiling so I gave Emma my flipflop so she could squish it (she's a lot taller than me).  She couldn't quite reach it so she got on a chair and hit at it with the flip flop.  What happened next occurred in the space of a few adrenaline-filled seconds and has become what I now think of as the great spider-killing relay of 2014.  On the first hit Emma didn't quite get the spider and it dropped on the floor, scurrying away under the table.  "I can't step on it, I'm not wearing shoes!" I yelled.  Emma quickly dropped the flip flop she was holding to me.  I caught it and lunged under the table to easily squish it with one well-aimed smack.  It was pretty soft and didn't need repeated whacks like the camel spider.  I looked up, laughing with relief, and saw that both Kevin and Amanda were standing on their chairs looking terrified.   "Your crossfit skills really came in handy there!" said Emma.  "One second you were standing next to me and the next second you were under the table." "Yeah, it was all a blur," I responded, "I was just acting on instinct." It was a spectacular example of teamwork at its best.  

3.  I feel like I kept my cool during both of the previous spider incidents, but I have to admit this next one freaked me out a bit.  It was Tuesday evening and we were sitting outside under a mango tree in Professor Batana's yard, waiting for dinner to be ready.  It was a bit windy and one gust blew a mango leaf down onto my shirt.  Except it wasn't a mango leaf.  I looked down and immediately sprang up, yelling some expletives as I tried to figure out what was on my shirt.  Once Professor Batana had calmly brushed it off of me I was able to inspect the object that had landed on me.  It looked like a flat caterpillar about 8 inches long with frilly stuff coming off of it.  The closer I looked the more it became obvious that it was adapted to camouflage itself against the tree trunk.  It was actually a wonderful specimen and I'm glad we didn't kill it.  I wonder if I'll ever see a caterpillar like that again. I just hope it doesn't land on my shirt the next time.

4. Those three stories are definitely the most exciting, but every day here there are new bugs that appear.  Just today a giant beetle the size of a quarter was hanging out with me as I worked out in our spare bedroom.  The other day a giant bug with super speed crawled up our electric water kettle before I smashed it with my flip flop.  The ants in our house are taking over.  They crawl in our dishes, in our water jugs, and all over our floors.  I've heard they go away once the rains start so I'm looking forward to that.  Maybe some of the other giant bugs will go away too.

Site Visitors

This past week Emma and I hosted two visitors in Zobue, Amanda and Kevin.  Both Amanda and Kevin are part of Moz 23, the newest group of volunteers to arrive in Mozambique.  They are currently in training in Namaacha and will begin teaching in February.  This week the members of Moz 23 traveled to different parts of Mozambique to get a sense of what life is like for volunteers in the field.  It was fun to host Amanda and Kevin in Zobue, though it seemed a bit surreal.  It seems like just yesterday that I was the trainee visiting a seasoned volunteer, but now I AM the seasoned volunteer imparting my 'wisdom'.  Though most of the time I still feel like I'm figuring out how to live here, having these guests made me realize that Zobue has become my home and I'm more comfortable here than I realize.  

Emma, Kevin, and Amanda enjoying Chipotle-style burrito bowls on their first night in Zobue.

Kevin and Amanda arrived in Zobue Sunday evening.  On Monday we walked to the market in the morning and they went to the school with Emma in the afternoon.  For dinner on Monday we took them to Quinta Monte for grilled chicken and fries.  They enjoyed the view of Mt. Zobue, the beer, and the chicken.

On Tuesday, Kevin and Amanda got to help me with my Livro Aberto reading program.
 On Tuesday evening, we went to the home of a fellow professor for dinner.  We made hamburgers and they made chicken and fries.  It was a delicious meal.  It was fun to spend time with Professor Batana and his family.  Unfortunately, I have no photos of that meal.

On Wednesday, Kevin, Amanda, and I got up at 5 am to hike Mt. Zobue.  The idea was to get up before the heat, which was a good idea since Wednesday was a scorcher.

We made it to the summit by 7:30am!

View of Zobue and the border marker.

Ant highway!  This was literally the most ants I've ever seen.  There were hundreds of ants crawling along a highway lined with the bodies of dead ants...Mozambique has some crazy inset life!  See below for a video of the any highway.

On the way down the mountain, we ran across a field that was actually irrigated! It was the first example of irrigation I've seen in Zobue so I had to take a picture.

All too soon, it was time for Kevin and Amanda to head back to Maputo.  It was very fun having them visit and I wish them the best for their Peace Corps experience.  I can't wait to see where they end up in Mozambique!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Livro Aberto

In the past few weeks I've been working on developing the program for the Zobue Community Library, also known as Livro Aberto Zobue.  Livro Aberto means Open Book in Portuguese.  Since the beginning of October we've been able to do community library programming where the children actually get to choose books to read and read them independently.  It is very exciting for these students because many of them have probably never touched a book before, let alone new books with lots of colorful pictures.  Right now we are holding the community library program from 10-12 on Tuesday mornings.  We've settled on a schedule that has worked well for the past few weeks.

First, we start with a Bom Dia (good morning) song.  This activity helps settle the kids and introduce them by name.  Second we go over the alphabet.  Our goal is for all the students to know the names of the letters.  

After practicing the alphabet a few times we transition to our letter of the day.  We learn about the sounds of the letter, how to write the letter, and we draw a few things that start with that letter.  
This week our letter of the day was the letter F.  In this photo I am asking the students who has seen a formiga (ant) in their house lately.  It is ant season here so almost everyone should be raising their hands.

Next, I ask for volunteers to name other words that start with F.  This week we came up with words like faca, final, Francisco, and falta.

After going over the letter on the board, the students write down the words in the notebooks.
In this photo I am helping a students write the letter F.

Children working on writing their letter Fs.
After the writing and drawing activity, we do a little song and dance to get the kids moving a bit.  They love this song because they get to jump around and be silly.

After a quick break it is time for read aloud.  
Here I am reading the book David Vai a Escola
 Finally, the last activity of the day is independent reading.  Since we have students from 5th grade and students from 2nd and 3rd grades, I have each 5th grader find one or two younger students to read with.  After washing hands (very important before touching books) the children can choose books to read.
Reading time!

A 5th grade student helps a younger student read a book about colors.

The Nao David books are a big hit.

So far the reading program has been going really well.  It will be challenging keeping it going during the holidays, but I hope to start up again when school starts again next year.  My goals for next year are to train community members or other teachers to help run the program and perhaps expand the program to more days. I am so thankful for the opportunity to develop this program in Zobue.  Photo credits to Kevin Nguyen.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mountain Cooking

Over the past few months I've continued to take some kids from Zobue hiking in the mountains on Saturday afternoons.  Most of the time it's just a quick walk and then we get cookies afterwards, but last week the kids asked if we could bring rice and cook on the mountain.  "You want to cook food on the mountain?" I asked.  "YES!" they said.  Ok, why not? I thought.  So that is how I last Saturday I found myself on the rocks behind my house, helping ten-year old girls cook rice and macaroni while the boys ran around collecting firewood.

We built the fires using three rocks to rest the pot on and poking sticks through the gaps between the rocks.  Everything is extremely dry this time of year and it was windy up there so the fires burned well.  In no time we were boiling water and cooking away!

As we waited for the food to cook, the kids had a great time jumping, dancing, and doing acrobatics for the camera. 

Finally, it was time to eat.  The kids crowded around the food with plastic bags and pot lids (we didn't bring any plates or silverware) and the oldest girl portioned out the food using a small tupperware container.  In true Mozambican fashion there was a lot of yelling and arguing over who got what, but eventually everyone seemed to be happy.  Also true to Mozambican culture, the boys went off to eat in a separate area while the girls grouped around the pots and scooped out food with their hands.  Coming from a culture where eating meals together very important, this separation of gender is still strange to me.  In Mozambique families rarely eat together, most often members of the family will eat at very different times throughout the day.   Conversation at mealtimes is also rare.  I miss a culture that values family meal time and conversation.

Here, the girls are guarding the rest of their food from the boys who want to take more.

The boys eating in their area.
 After eating, the kids quickly found some pieces of plastic and scraps of cardboard to use as sleds to slide down the rocks.  Someone had even built a landing pit made of dry leaves so the kids could do flips and trick landings at the end of the slide.

This Saturday cooking time with the kids was fun, but it also made the gender roles in Mozambique extremely clear to me.  The girls did all the cooking and cleaning up while the boys played around until the food was done and then made a fuss when the food wasn't perfect.  These kids don't know any different and are probably fine with their situations, but it makes me feel lucky that I am from a culture with gender roles that aren't so rigid.