Thursday, July 24, 2014

Rata de Mato

So far in Mozambique I've tried a lot of new foods: hippo, goat, and corn beer to name a few. One thing I haven't been able to try yet is the rata de mato, the bush rat. People sell these little rats at a good price on the side of the road or at any market.  They are roasted--skin, hair, bones, and all--and sold for about 50 cents per half dozen.  At first I thought people just ate them like that, as a kind of street snack, but I haven't actually ever seen anyone eating them.  The other day I was on a chapa and the people on either side of me bought multiple sets of rats so I was able to get some photos and ask questions.  Apparently they don't eat them straight off the stick, but usually cook them in a stew with tomato and onion.  It seems really gross to me, but these rats are a good source of protein in a place where many people are severely protein deficient. So I won't judge people here for thinking they are delicious.  I just probably won't be trying them any time soon. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Brick making part II

After the last post about brick making in Zobue a friend of mine asked if I had a picture of the mold used to make the bricks.  At the time I didn't have a photo, but have been on the search ever since. A few days ago I asked a young man I had seen making bricks if he had the mold and he said he had borrowed the mold from someone else and had already returned it.  Yesterday, I was running along the road and saw a man carrying a brick mold, but I didn't have my camera. This morning I went for a walk around Zobue with my camera and had the good fortune of walking by a man making bricks with his very own brick mold.  So, here are some photos of the brick mold plus some more photos of the brick making process.

These men are piling up the dried bricks, leaving room at the bottom to build fires underneath and bake the bricks.

I asked this man if I could take a picture of him and he struck this pose.  The mold is supporting his right hand.

Here is the brick mold.  You can make two bricks at a time.  Simply pack in the mud, carry the mold to where you want your bricks, and flip over the mold, letting the new bricks fall out onto the ground to dry.

In the previous post I showed a picture of a house being built.  Here is it a few days later.  They are making progress!

I thought it was interesting what they use to make sure the walls are square.  Just some string and a stick.  Seems to work pretty well.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Life in Zobue: Water

Continuing my Life in Zobue series, here I'm going to talk about water.  Most homes here in Zobue do not have running water so every day women and girls carry water from the nearest pump back to their homes for bathing, cooking, washing dishes, drinking, and cleaning.  To carry this water, they balance the full jugs on their heads.  Emma and I employ a local woman named Rute and her mother Fatima to bring us water every other day.  The jugs are quite heavy and our nearest pump is pretty far away so these women are very strong.  One day I carried the smallest of our jugs home from the pump on my head and it was hard! I made it home, but barely, and I spilled about a quarter of it on myself on the way.  

Here is our water storage area.  Rute even carries the big blue one in the middle/back on her head.  It holds about 50 liters...which weighs over 100 pounds.

Doing dishes with baby Wilder.

But where does the water come from? Is it clean? Safe to drink?

In Zobue, some people have hand-dug wells in their yards that provide them with water.  They have a bucket on a string that they lower down, fill with water, and bring back up again.  This source of water is convenient, but since the top is open it can easily get contaminated.

Other people in Zobue (including me) pay 20 meticais (about 60 cents) per month to use one of various closed water pumps to get their water.  Since the top is closed there is no way for trash and debris to get in and contaminate the water, so it is very clean.  I still filter and bleach my water before drinking it though, just to be safe.

This is an example of one of the closed water pumps that exist around town.

This girl is stabilizing the water jug with her hands, but most women are able to balance these heavy jugs on their heads without requiring stabilization. They sometimes even carry two more smaller jugs of water in each hand while still having the big one on the head.  Amazing.

Some people get their water from the small streams that run through town.  This water is not very clean, but serves well for clothes washing and bathing.  Many women carry their laundry down to the stream and wash it there to save the trouble of carting lots of water just for washing clothes.  They then bring the clothes home and hang them up to dry in their yards.

This is Silvia carrying her laundry to the stream to wash.

So far we haven't had any water shortages, but I haven't yet been here in the height of the dry season so I don't really know how scarce the water gets.  I've heard that in the dry season some of the hand-dug wells go dry so there is more demand for the closed pumps since they are deeper.  This means that the lines for water start getting long and people have to line up at 4 am to get a good spot in the line.  Hopefully this year the ground will have enough water to last through the dry season and there won't be any problems, but you never know.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


Probably anyone who knows me knows that I love hiking.  I love mountains and I love being outside in nature.  So, not surprisingly, when a group of the 5th grade girls I’ve been doing reading classes with asked me to take them hiking up the mountain it was like Christmas had come early.  It took a few weeks for us to get organized, but two weeks ago I was able to take a group of 6 girls up the little mountain just outside of Zobue.

These girls, ages 9-14, have grown up their whole lives in Zobue, but have never explored the hills and mountains just outside their town.  I was so happy to be able to show them around.  On Sunday afternoon I packed my backpack with water and snacks, put on my hiking boots, and set out towards the primary school where I said I would meet the girls.  The first girl I met was Maria.  She was standing outside her house.

“Esta pronta para subir a montanha?” I asked.  Are you ready to climb the mountain?

“Sim, mas quero comer,” Maria responded.  Yes, but I want to eat first.

My heart sank.  Who knew if the food was prepared already or if we were going to be waiting two hours for it to be done.  Figuring I had plenty of time, I entered her house to wait for her to eat.  Luckily, the food was already prepared.  I sat with her baby sister on my lap while Maria ate about 2 bites of xima and one bite of chicken before saying, “Ja, vamos.” Ok, I’m ready. Let’s go.

We set out, now a group of two.  A little further down the path two more girls joined us.  These were actually 8th graders from my REDES group who saw us walking and wanted to join.  Four strong, we continued across the bridge and up towards primary school to collect Eunicia from her house.

When we arrived at Eunicia’s house there were a few of my students on the porch (Eunicia’s mother is a teacher at the secondary school and my REDES counterpart).

“Eunicia esta?” I asked. Is Eunicia at home?

“Dio? Nao,” one of the students responded. (Many people here have house names they use at home and school names they use for school and official documents. Dio is apparently Eunicia’s house name).

I was disappointed because I knew Eunicia had really wanted to come hiking.

“DIO!!!” Maria yelled. (When you don’t know where someone is, just yell for them…they are probably nearby).

“Sim?” Eunicia’s voice called from a few houses away.

“Vamos subir a montanha!” Maria yelled.

Soon after, Eunicia appeared with two more girls and a boy.  

“Voces querem subir a montanha tambem?” I asked. Do you want to come too?

“Sim!” the girls said. The boy looked like he wanted to come too, but then responded, “Nao, fome.” 
No, I want to go home and eat something.

After asking all the girls their ages and assessing their sizes I decided they could all make it up the mountain.   We were now a group of seven.  We set out.  The girls jabbered in local language while I tried to pick out words I recognized.  I looked down at the ground.  Other than my hiking boots, all I saw were feet in flip flops.  One girl didn’t even have any shoes.  Well, I thought, they are used to walking around barefoot.  They will probably do fine.  And they did.  The hike was a short one—just up a small mountain outside of town—but requires some scrambling up rocks and walking through some uncleared trail.  The girls, flip flops in hand, climbed right up the granite hillside, through the bushes, and over the boulders to reach the summit. 

At the top, we ate trail mix (they were very excited about the chocolate pieces and tried to save them by tying them to their shirts because they didn’t have pockets), drank water, took pictures, played games, and danced.  After about an hour, we headed back down, the girls singing and chatting with excitement.  They immediately asked me when we could go again.  We’re going again tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Life in Zobue: Making Bricks

For the past couple of weeks a main project in Zobue has been brick making.  Apparently it’s brick making season.  The process is quite extensive.  Luckily, all the materials are readily available.  Here’s a quick how to for brick making.  Most of the information in this tutorial was gathered by simple observation, so I apologize if there are some factual errors, but I think I have it about right.

1.       Find a spot of bare dirt that can serve as a good source for bricks.  Most of the time this can be found directly in your backyard. 

2.  Start to dig up the dirt to loosen the soil.  Dig about 4 feet deep.
3.   Add water to make a mud pit. 
4.   Mix the mud until it is a good consistency.
5.    Use a brick mold to form the bricks.

6. Make a lot of bricks.

 7.       Lay the wet bricks out in the sun to dry.

8.       Once dry, make a huge pile of bricks with slots in the bottom to build fires and bake the bricks.

Sometimes, the baking never actually happens and the bricks slowly return back to the earth...

9.       Unload the bricks and carry them to your desired building location.
10.       You’re ready to build your house! You don't even need cement, you can just use more mud as these men are doing.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Life in Zobue: Corn

I'm starting a series called Life in Zobue to share stories about everyday life in my village. First, I'd like to talk about corn.

Corn is a huge part of life in Zobue.  A lot of people grow corn as a main source of food.  When I arrived in December all the fields were prepared and ready to plant.  After the first rain, planting began and by March the corn in the fields was 10 feet high.  Paths that previously had an open view of the surrounding mountains were now obstructed on either side by a wall of corn.  Around this time some of the corn began to mature and people started eating the young corn on the cob.  This corn on the cob is nothing like our sweet corn in the states.  Here, it is tough, chewy, and dry.  I tried to eat it, but every time I was disappointed by the lack of flavor. It was still pretty good when it was fresh with some butter and parmesan cheese. The rest of the corn was left on the stalks to dry before harvest.

In April, the harvest began and suddenly the fields were clear again.  Piles of corn appeared in people's yards for drying.  After harvest, the next step is to remove all the corn kernels from the cobs and store them in bags.  Once this is done, a family will take a bucket of corn to the mill to grind into corn flour as needed throughout the year.  For many people in Zobue, xima, a kind of corn flour gruel is a daily staple.  If the harvest is good enough, the corn reserves will last until the harvest next year.  If not, there may be a time of hunger before the next corn can be harvested.  Luckily, Zobue is a productive area with good soil and adequate rainfall so most people here have enough to eat year-round.  Unfortunately, this is not true of many parts of Mozambique where sandy soil and a long dry season prevent good corn yields.  In drier areas, millet is also grown as it requires less water than corn.

Besides an important source of food, the corn grown in Zobue also provides the villagers with a local source of alcohol.  Bombe is a popular drink in Zobue and is made from fermented corn mash.  To make bombe you simply coarsely grind the corn, boil it in water for a few hours, then wait 3-4 days for the concoction to ferment.  Then you rent speakers and play loud music to tell everyone in town you are selling bombe and there is a big party at your house!  I've tried it--not my favorite.  It is thick and chunky and tastes like sour corn.  I definitely couldn't drink a whole cup of it without feeling nauseous.  But, I supposed it is an acquired taste.

A corn field after the harvest
The corn kernels waiting to be ground into flour.

Washing corn kernels
Grinding corn into corn flour at the mill
Two women leaving the mill with their baskets of corn flour
After going to the mill, the corn flour dries in the sun.
Before using the corn flour, it is sifted using the flat baskets shown in this photo.
Bombe, the corn beer, being boiled over an open fire.
Two women waiting for their bombe to finish boiling.