Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Mozambican sledding

A few weeks ago Seni and I walked up the hill behind my house.  It is only about a five minute walk and gives a great view of Zobue and surrounding countryside.  For a little more exercise you can climb the little mountain behind it in about 15 minutes and get an even better view.  It has quickly become a favorite spot of mine as an easy escape into nature.  I'm sure the sunset is amazing from the hill and my goal for tomorrow is to go there and watch it.

The first time Seni and I walked out to the rocky slopes there were a bunch of kids scrambling on the hillside with huge armfuls of leafy bushes.  At first I was confused and asked Seni what they were doing.  "Are they collecting the leaves to eat?" I asked. He didn't really respond, maybe because he didn't know, but I quickly got my answer.  The kids were using the leaves to slide down the hill! In Alaska we sled down snowhills and here in Mozambique we slide down rocks on piles of leaves.  Pretty much the same thing, right? What a great way to protect your pants and have fun at the same time.

Collecting leaves for sliding.
You can also use old water tubs or pieces of plastic to slide down the rock.


Seni enjoying the view and watching the kids slide down the hill.

What do you do with so much free time?

Since school doesn't start until February a lot of people have asked me what I've been doing every day. I've never had so much free time in my entire life.  Never before have I literally had a completely free schedule for weeks and weeks on end.  So, what have I done with so much free time?

I sewed a skirt...
The first article of clothing I've ever sewn by hand! It's amazing what you have patience for when you have nothing but time.

I planted some seeds...
In here we had squash, basil, tomato, kale, sweet pea, herb mix, cauliflower, and beets.
A few weeks later...now the basil is doing great--the rest didn't survive when I left them for new year's.

I dug a garden...
So far my cucumber and squash plants are doing well.  Hopefully the onions, carrots, kale, cabbage, corn, beans, beets, basil, and tomatoes also do ok.  This is my first experiment really gardening--we'll see how it goes!

I practiced guitar...
I've played enough for the neighborhood kids that they've even started learning the songs.  They can sing along to Country Roads in English even though they have no idea what they are saying.  It's pretty adorable.
Cecilia made a little guitar out of a stick, a water bottle, and a rubber band.  These kids are so ingenious!

I read...
I've read at least 8 books since coming to Zobue.  It's great--I've been able to catch up on books I've been meaning to read for years.  I love my kindle. :)

I studied ChiChewa...
My motivation for studying ChiChewa comes and goes.  Sometimes I think I could actually learn this language and other days I feel like it's hopeless.  It is unlike any language I've ever studied and the nouns have been very confusing.  But, I have two years to learn it and learn it I will (hopefully).

I went for walks...
View of Mt. Zobue from the little mountain behind my house.

Bwino tired out from hiking up the mountain.

Piro looking goofy as usual.

I worked out...
Shawn-T is my best friend. Haha not really, but I'm starting to memorize his narration.
I cooked...
The first dinner we made in Zobue--curry beans and rice with mango salsa.

Chickpea salad with cucumber, green pepper, tomato, and onion.

Refried beans and rice with pico de gallo.

I baked...
Mmmm banana muffins!
Also, I've been counting down the days until school starts.  It's been nice having so much free time, but it's actually been extremely challenging to learn how to structure my day. Sometimes I feel aimless and begin to wonder why I'm here.  On those days I either try to make up lots of projects for me to do or I give in and watch a whole afternoon of TV on my computer.  Sometimes you just need those days.  I will be glad when I have something more concrete to do. Two more weeks!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Insect Hatch!

Last week I was talking to some of my friends from home and they asked me if I had any crazy bug stories to share.  Believe me, I have quite a few, but their question reminded me of some photos I had taken to share on my blog of a memorable bug experience. 

Insect hatches come in waves.  Sometimes there will be no bugs swarming around our outside light at night and sometimes there will be millions.  Usually after it rains there are a lot.  Around this time of year flying ants hatch by the thousands.  They are actually an important part of the Mozambican diet as they contain a lot of protein.  People fry them up and sell them at markets.  I tried some the other day—not too bad actually.  I wouldn’t really seek them out, but now I can say I’ve eaten fried ants and I don't blame anyone here who eats them to get some very necessary protein.  Xima (corn meal porridge) all day every day just doesn't cut it.

Anyway, we’ve had these flying ants outside flying around our light before, but a few weeks ago we had more than I’ve ever seen.  They were literally swarming.  I had to go outside to lock up for the night and it was like stepping into one of those wind machines where they blow money around and you have to try to catch as many bills as you can.  Except instead of money flying around, it was flying ants.  Luckily they don’t bite, so all I had to do was keep myself from freaking out.  Every time we opened the door they would fly in to our inside lights as well so even though we tried to avoid it, we soon had a bunch inside out house too.  This is when Emma got the Bay-Gon bug killer and zapped them. The next morning thousands of these ant carcasses littered the veranda.  Actually, they weren’t really carcasses.  I guess the ants lose their wings overnight and turn into little larvae wormy things.  So there were millions of shed insect wings and a bunch of wriggling larvae.  I swept them up—or tried to since the wings just kind of flew around everywhere--and dumped them over the porch.  Bad move.  All the half-dead larvae bodies quickly started to decompose, started to smell, and attracted a million flies.  For a few days I couldn’t comfortably sit on the veranda because of the smell and the swarms of flies.  So now I know not to dump all the bug bodies over the veranda—next time, I’ll dump them in the trash pit.

All the bugs flying around our porch light.

Emma getting them with the Bay-Gon

The next morning.  It doesn't look like all that much here, but when I piled it up it was about a 1 foot square pile.

This is a pile from a different day--not nearly as many.

The shed wings.

The wings are actually really soft when they are all in a pile...I was surprised! Like a really soft blanket, but as light as air.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Cultural Differences

I’ve had a lot of questions from people back home about what kind of “culture shock” I experienced when coming to Mozambique.  I haven’t posted about it so far because I wanted to give myself time to observe the culture and draw my own conclusions.  Of course it is a constant process, but I feel like I’ve been in the country long enough to make some comments about the cultural differences I’ve observed.

1.     Polygamy
First, probably the hardest cultural difference I’ve had to deal with is the prevalence of polygamy.  Here in Mozambique it is very common for a man to have multiple wives.  Technically, is it illegal but there is no enforcement of the law so polygamy is extremely prevalent.  Historically, a man’s multiple wives lived in the same family compound and raised their children together, but nowadays men sometimes have completely different houses for their wives.  In addition, the wives might not even know about each other.  To be honest, I’ve had a hard time getting used to this idea.  It is hard for me to respect a man who has 4 wives and 32 children.  It is hard for me to have a conversation with him without wanting to scream, “what were you thinking?!? How can you care for 32 children!?!”  Polygamy isn’t an archaic, traditional leftover either.  Young men are continuing to practice polygamy.  I recently heard about a woman whose 27 year-old husband of one year wants to marry another woman (but still stay with his first wife as well).  If a man in the United States told his wife that, she would most likely file for divorce as quickly as possible.  For most women in Mozambique, that isn’t an option since they depend on their husbands to support them and their children.  Even for women with jobs of their own it is difficult. Since having a husband and a family is so necessary in Mozambican culture most women can’t conceive of the idea of living by themselves by choice.  So if a man tells his wife he would like to take another wife, she usually just puts up with it even if it isn’t what she wants. 

Again, not all Mozambican men are polygamists. I have met some extremely dedicated, committed, monogamous couples raising families.  But every time I hear about a man having more than one wife or a kid having 30 siblings it still shocks me.

2.     Trash disposal (or lack thereof)
There is no system for trash disposal in Mozambique.  There are no trash cans anywhere to be found and most people just throw trash on the ground wherever they are.  This means there is trash everywhere.  There are old sandals buried in the paths, scraps of plastic bags in the trees, bottle caps and chip bags mixed in with the dirt in the fields.  It definitely takes some getting used to to walk past piles of trash all over the place every day.  I’m not used to it yet.  I still hoard my trash in pockets and purses instead of throwing it on the ground, even if there is no place in the near future where I will be able to dispose of it properly. I even cringe when I throw a banana peel in the ditch on the side of the road even though I know that in this tropical climate it will probably biodegrade in a week or less.  During site visits I threw my coke can out the window of the bus because there was no other option and I still feel badly about it.

Also, since there are no trash pickup services, most people dig a big hole in their yard and burn their trash.  Yes, all of it.  Plastic bottles, plastic bags, tin cans, paper, clothes, everything.  I have thought about explaining the dangers of burning plastic, but the truth is if they didn’t burn the trash it would just build up and they would still have nothing to do with it. Every time I smell a trash pile burning I cringe for my lungs, the lungs of all Mozambicans, and for the environment.  Any ideas to address this problem would be greatly appreciated. 

3.     Parenting
In the United States, parents take their responsibility to ensure the safety of their children very seriously.  They baby proof the house, make concrete plans of who is going to care for their children when they have to leave, and make sure their children don’t do anything that could potentially harm them.  In Mozambique, the attitude is very different.  I’m not saying Mozambicans don’t care about their kids—they definitely do, but they are much more laid back about safety.  The general philosophy is that a child should be able to take care of itself and keep itself safe.  At my host family in Namaacha, my mae would regularly leave my 10 month old sister in the care of my 8 year old sister for an entire day.  Laiza would feed, bathe, and change the baby all on her own.  None of the outlets in my house had protective plastic covers.  None of the corners of the coffee table were padded.  There were no “playpens” or baby gates for the baby—she just roamed wherever she wanted.  Here in Zobue, 5 year old kids carry their 1 year old siblings on their backs and 3 year olds roam the neighborhood in groups of kids without parents.  It works because older children are remarkably aware and capable of taking care of their younger siblings, even if the older children are only 5 years old.  Kids grow up here extremely fast.  I would forget my sister Laiza was only 8 because she did so many adult tasks.
Just today I had an experience that was a little shocking to me, but totally normal for Mozambique.  I was in a taxi coming back from a nearby town and the taxi stopped for a woman and her small child, probably about 3 years old.  The woman put the child into the taxi and I thought she was going to get in as well, but the taxi then drove off.  That’s weird, I thought. Maybe there isn’t enough room in the taxi so she is going to walk and meet us down the road. After a minute or so the taxi pulls to the side of the road where a small dirt road branches off to the right. The man sitting next to me lifts the child and puts him on the side of the road.  I look around to see where the woman is but she is nowhere to be seen.  Then the taxi starts to drive away as the child stands alone on the side of the road and starts to walk down the dirt road.  I must have looked very confused because the man next to me explained that the child was coming back from school.  All these adults were just helping him get home.  It is a true example of a village raising a child.  A child of 3 years old can walk home by himself because he has a whole village looking out for him.

4.     Eye contact
In the United States, making eye contact is a sign of respect and a way to show you are paying attention.  When someone is talking to you, you look them in the eyes to show them you are listening.  When you are talking to someone, you look them in the eyes so they know you are talking to them.  In Mozambique, not making eye contact is a sign of respect and looking someone directly in the eyes can be seen as rude, as a come-on, or as a challenge to authority.  This has been hard for me to get used to.  The first week we were in Zobue, the director of the school took us around and introduced us to the police, the border officials, and the chief of the town.  As he was talking to these various people he would look down or look around the room. I found myself thinking, who is he talking to? Why isn’t he more focused? Then I remembered that he wasn’t making eye contact out of respect.  Sometimes when I first meet someone and they aren’t looking at me I find myself thinking, who is this person, does he not want to talk to me?  Then I remember, he’s not making eye contact out of respect.  It’s hard to get used to.

5.     Nose-picking
To end on a light note, it is completely socially acceptable to pick your nose in public.  You can pick your nose walking down the street, when you’re talking to someone, even when you’re teaching, as my lingua professors would do frequently.  No need to find a tissue, just pick away!

Friday, January 3, 2014

New Year's Trip

Travelling in Mozambique is always an adventure.  In order to maintain a positive attitude, you must be flexible, willing to make compromises, and prepared to be uncomfortable for long periods of time.  When you travel in Mozambique mentally prepare yourself for nothing going as planned, travel taking hours longer than it should, sweating more than is probably healthy, and cramming at least 30 people into a car the size of a minivan for a trip on bumpy roads at 100 degrees.  It helps to be able to laugh at what Mozambique throws at you and is especially nice when you have travel companions who can laugh along with you.  When I was crammed in a chapa with about 30 other people, had a man standing over me dripping sweat onto my face, a bolt digging into my leg, my arm falling asleep because it was being crushed, and all my bags piled on top of me so I could barely see I felt incredibly lucky to be with a fellow volunteer Laura so we could just laugh hysterically about the ridiculousness of our situation.  And when the chapa stopped to squeeze in three more people with large backpacks, we just thought tiny thoughts and tried to take up as little space as possible while continuing to laugh.  When you are in a situation like that you have two options: you can be angry and hate your life or you can accept what is happening and laugh.  I’m glad I have travel companions with whom I can most often choose the latter.

A quick rundown of the trip: on Sunday I left Zobue for the first time and took a chapa to Tete City, the capital of Tete province about 3 hours away.  I stayed in the city long enough to get some money out of the ATM and buy some cheese, yogurt, and ice cream (yay dairy products!) before taking another chapa to a fellow volunteer’s site in Mabvudzi Ponte.  Mabvudzi Ponte is a town of about 150 people, but has gorgeous mountains around and a lovely river.  After a very sweaty night’s sleep (Mabvudzi Ponte is in the lowlands of Tete so it is much hotter than Zobue and when I travel I can’t bring my lovely fan) we did some hiking around the area and swam in the river.  It was glorious.  The next day we headed to Tete City for New Year’s Eve.  We spent New Year’s Eve at a private Mozambican party that we invited ourselves to since the bar we were planning to go to was closed.  The hostess was incredibly gracious and let us crash her party.  She even gave us free chicken and French fries! Another example of the incredible Mozambican hospitality.  We watched fireworks go off along the Zambezi River at midnight and I danced more than I have in a long time, including the Mozambican version of the electric slide. Overall, it was a great way to celebrate the New Year.  Except for the fact that we had no idea that it was Mozambican tradition to wear white for New Year’s and at least two of us were wearing black dresses, I’d say our first Mozambican New Year’s was a success. 

While it was fun to be in a city for a while, hang out with other volunteers, eat ice cream and other good food, I’m glad to be back in Zobue.  Travelling in Mozambique is tiring!

Jeff and Laura hiking along the riverbed.

Some kind of river bird. Anyone know what kind?

It was so hot this river was like a hot tub.