Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby

 

6:45 am, the national anthem has been sung, the flag is waving and the students are lined up ready to go to class. “One last announcement for the girls,” says the Pedagogical Director, “We have already had to move 16 girls to night class this year because they got pregnant. If you are pregnant, or your stomach is getting bigger, you’ve missed your period, or you’ve been having sex, you have until Friday to get the secretary to move you to night class or you will be kicked out of school the second we realize that you are with child.” My eyes probably visibly rolled because I am getting more than a little bit annoyed by the announcements directed towards girls and only girls— last time I checked, it takes two to make a baby.

I walked into my first class and brought up the announcement. “Just a reminder that that there are free condoms at the health center. And as always, qualquer duvida, any doubts, you can come to me as an anonymous resource.”

The class clown fished a bright red condom packet out of his wallet, “Senhora Professora, I always carry one on me,” he said, making everyone giggle again.

The condom discussion lead to a know-it-all tell me that “we all already know what condoms are, tea-chah,” only to have the class shush him. “Ah, é? Oh yeah? Who can come up to the front and show the class what the best way to open a condom is, does anyone know if condoms have an expiration date?”

Nãooo, Professora, we don’t really know, he’s just being a troublemaker, do you think you could bring some condoms to class tomorrow?” I sent a quick text to my health site mate in order to set up a mini-presentation about condom usage for next week. Mozambique’s secondary school curriculum does not have any specific sexual education classes, sex ed is recommended to be included in 8th grade biology, but my students confirmed that all they know about sex is from talking to friends, and the rare presentation.

Because I am a foreigner (ain’t it obvious?), I try to use my foreign-ness as an asset when talking about taboo-ish topics such as sex. My students know that I don’t know their parents, that I won’t gossip with the school secretaries, they also know I have zero shame walking into the health center to pick up condoms for them.

Mozambique has an estimated 11.5% rate of HIV prevalence, the 8th highest in the world. Teenage pregnancy is a lot higher, with over 40 percent of girls having given birth before turning 18. Other Peace Corps Volunteers who have gone to Science Club trainings with their Mozambican counterparts have told me that the HIV/condom demonstrations were the first time most of those counterparts had seen a condom.

After class ended, a student came up to me, and in a half whisper asked if maybe we could do HIV testing at school on the day of the presentation. “I’ll see what I can do,” I said, realizing silently that there still needs to be a lot more talk about sex, baby.

Inspiration for this post’s title comes from the 1990’s hit, Let’s Talk About Sex, which was written with the intention of facilitating the conversation about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States.

36 Hours in Nampula City

This post is loosely based on the New York Times’ series: 36 Hours

Nampula City is a little known city outside of Mozambique. Reviews from Lonely Planet include the fact that Nampula “is no sultry good-looker” and Getaway admitting the city is “one of the least inspiring cities to spend time in.”  Yet, it is a haven for Peace Corps Volunteers, home to three large supermarkets and one Mozambican-Chinese restaurant. It might also be the only place to find dip-cones in the north of the country, so it is no wonder that PCVs choose to spend (often times more than) 36 hours here.

Friday:

Wa-Resta Chapa Stop – 13:30 pm

Wa-Resta Chapa stop is the western-most long-distance transportation stop coming into Nampula City. Situated inconveniently about 8 kilometers away from city center mixed and mashed into a local market, Wa-Resta will give you enough of the shock to enter Nampula City. Usually by the time you’ve come here from my side of the EN8, it means your boleiaing, hitchhiking, situation didn’t work out as planned and you’ve had to opt for public transportation. 2/3 of the time, you drank too much water in the Chapa and will be forced to catch a 200 met taxi towards Ruby’s Hostel, instead of the 10 met inner-city chapa, because otherwise you will pee your pants. While at Wa-Resta, make sure to hide your phone in your money belt and lock your backpack tight, banditos are no joke here.

2. Ruby’s Backpackers – 13:50

A 20 minute taxi ride towards city center will bring you to Ruby’s. A favorite Peace Corps hang out stocked with two rooms of dorm beds that will set you back 750 mets, and a few private rooms, Ruby’s is also conveniently located between Nampula’s three supermarkets and some of the best bars. Ruby’s veranda is a favorite to lounge eating take-away if one is too tired to actually leave the hostel for dinner or lunch one day.

3. Lua’s Chinese – 14:20

After having peed and checked into Ruby’s, head down the street and to the left until you find a hidden restaurant stacked on top of storage containers. You’ll probably be the last to arrive at Lua’s meeting up with other PCVs on the so-called balcony, decorated by sun-washed red lanterns, and Cerveja Manica plastic coated tablecloths. Try the 40 met spring rolls and split order 103, frango com amedoin, piri-piri e verduras. If your stomach doesn’t hurt from having overestimated your hunger, then head across the street to get a chocolate dip-cone (110 mets) before heading back to Ruby’s to rest through your food coma in peace.

4. Sporting Bar – 20:00

By 8pm, it is pitch black outside, your food coma has mostly disappeared, and you and a couple other PCVs are craving gin and tonics, amarrula and coffee or whatever drink of choice that you can’t find at site. Take a left and then an immediate right as you are exiting Ruby’s, and three blocks later, you’ll find Sporting Bar. Named for the Portuguese soccer team and with arguably the best terrace in Nampula, its a perfect place to post up at the bar in front of whatever soccer game is playing that day (but don’t forget your bug spray and malaria prophylaxis!) As you order your drinks, realize that you won’t be back in the city for another month or two, and treat yourself, order the shrimp petisco with garlic sauce or the beef kebab.

Saturday:

1. Nampula Central Market – 6:45

Wake up at Ruby’s, clutching a bottle of water and wondering if last night’s idea of starting Nampula’s first sushi-sake bar with a fellow Peace Corps volunteer is actually a feasible idea. Look at the bunk across from you and see that said PCV is awake and also craving avocados. Put on your fanny pack, bring 100 mets, leave your phone behind and head out to the Nampula Central Market, on the hunt for eggs, avocados and onions, to make avocado toast for breakfast. Spend 15 minutes walking about the aisles, wondering why your site only has tomatoes, onions and the lonely cucumber, compared to the Central Market which oddly reminds you of Mozambican versions of the Whole Foods’ vegetable section.

2. ShopRite – 9:00

After a lovely breakfast, it’s time to get down to business, you have at least 15 items on your shopping list and that requires a stop at at least 2 of the 3 aforementioned supermarkets. First stop is ShopRite, where you spend more minutes than you want to admit oogling at the cheese section. The wine aisle is a quick stop— where you fit a PCV favorite: a dry white called Unbelievable, in your basket. At the cheap price of 229 mets and the fact that it does not taste awful really does make it unbelievable.

3. Flavours and Friends – 10:30

After checking out of ShopRite, making sure none of the creeps that hang out in the entrance try to kiss you, you speed walk across the street to Flavours and Friends, a new café with delightful ham and cheese puff pastry tarts. Settle for one of those accompanied with a seasonal fruit juice (last month’s was beet-apple-orange) and get all those vitamins inside your body! Make sure you tip the waiters, who put up with a bit too much shit and yet are extremely attentive.

4. Cafe VIP/Supermercado Spar – 12:00

After spending an hour lounging in Flavours and Friends it’s time to hit the road again, grab your bags and walk the 10 minutes to Cafe VIP/Supermercado Spar. Conveniently located one on top of another, VIP is known for its delicious and enormous Shwarma Platters while Spar usually has Nutella and shampoo on sale. Order the Shwarma de Carne or Kafta, and try to force yourself to finish the copious amounts of food (fries with garlic aioli) until you give up and return to Ruby’s for your second food-coma nap of the past 24 hours.

Quick tip: On your way towards VIP, you might stop by an abandoned veranda where four of five men are selling what we call “Nampula Sandals.” Leather and beaded, made in Tanzania, they come in all shapes, colors and sizes. Haggle them down to 600 mets, wear them for a day to break them in, and then never take them off again.

5. Museu – 16:00

By 16, you’re up again, wondering what you have to do for the rest of the day. Three blocks away from Ruby’s is the Museu, a museum of ethnology in Nampula. The large building can be visited for 100 mets, but the real treasure is the hidden artisans’ market in the courtyard behind the museum. Makonde craftsmen working with pão preto, black wood, making sculptures, pilãozinhos, and even keychains with your name or phone number. Prices are easily 5 times less expensive than the Maputo Artisan Market (but the selection is a lot more limited). After wandering the different stands, enter the straw roofed restaurant hidden under shady trees on your left and enjoy a fresh pineapple juice (shot of rum added in: optional) for 170/250 mets.

6. DDPub/MP3 – 23:30

If you have the courage to go home exhausted on Sunday, the two most popular night clubs in Nampula are DDPub and MP3. In order to look your chiquiest, wear mostly white clothes (which will glow under the blacklight) and pull out that lipstick that you were sure you had misplaced. Mozambicans love to dance so gather that courage and twirl into the night to the sounds of Mr. Bow or CEF. For more information of DDPub or MP3, look up their Facebook pages, where you’ll find out if theres cover and/or a theme.

Sunday:

1. Wa-Resta Chapa Stop 8:00

Your journey on Sunday will end right where it began 36 hours earlier. The one and only Wa-Resta. Get there early and stare at the EN8, wondering if any of these cars are going to your destination. Walk ten minutes past where the chapas are parked and start waving your hand and smiling as hard as you can to every Ford Ranger or Toyota Hilander you see passing by. Either you get lucky and someone brings you towards your home, or you give up after an hour or so of waiting in the hot African sun, and get yourself on a chapa, bracing yourself for the discomfort, bruises and smells that come with Mozambican public transportation.

Honorable Mentions (for those who have more than 36 hours in Nampula City): Sunlight Food Court, Istanbul Restaurant, Cobacana Restaurant, Milenio Hotel and Restaurant, Rocheio Supermarket.
A HUGE shout-out to Peace Corps Volunteer, and fellow blogger, Leslie for teaching me how to love Nampula City and for at least half of these pictures. Namp City wouldn’t be the same without you.

That Conference about ‘Girl Issues’

 

Armed with lots of papel gigante, a 12 hour flight delay, and a good nights sleep in a fancy hotel room, my counterparts and I were ready to attend the (final) Let Girls Learn Conference. Student Friendly Schools: Combating Gender Based Violence in the Classroom was the official title of the conference, which I presented to my school director back in March, asking if perhaps he would know a female teacher and a pedagogical director that might be interested in the topic. I had my thoughts that the topic would probably not go over well, just as I was walking into my director’s office I heard two professors talking about “how hot the eighth graders are this year.” Rumor had it that some (maybe even most) of the male professors at school have at least three girlfriends per classroom. Some go as far as failing girls when they reject their advances.

The conference lasted three days, filled with hot showers and breakfast buffets, but also interesting conversation topics and coming up with action plans on how to make our schools a safer place for all the students.

Small tips like making sure there are set expectations about mutual respect in the classroom, a no-touching-others rule— no matter whether the other might be your boyfriend or best friend. Changing the seat order to be boy/girl/boy. Explaining the difference between sex and gender. Going over the rights of a child, and the code of conduct for Mozambican professors— both of which repeat multiple times that a student/child has the right to be free from sexual harassment. Using in class examples that go against traditional gender roles – Maria is strong. John washes the dishes.

I came back to Malema hyped and ready to implement whatever small change I could make. I first started by changing the seat order to boy/girl/boy, talking about a safe place, and even had to kick out two boys for pulling on girls’ hair and one for pushing another boy into the door. I was feeling on top of the world, maybe my students were finally going to understand. This afternoon, my counterparts and I were summoned to present our “knowledge about that conference about girl issues to seven male members of the school council only to be told that they already tried having an even number of boy and girl chefes a few years ago, but the girls didn’t work out because girls “don’t command the respect that the boys do.”

Frustrated is a good descriptive adjective for my time here in Mozambique, especially when faced with the issue about gender based violence here at my own school. I have to accept that sex between students and teachers here is a norm, and that one conversation is not going to change that norm. I have to accept that as much as I bring up the topic, the ones in charge at my school have friends and/or sometimes are the ones who, have students as “girlfriends”. The reality I live in here in Malema is both frustrating and infuriating. I can’t just walk into the school and call them perverts and yell at them— that wouldn’t help my integration nor earn me any respect. On the other hand, some girls are proud to get the attention of a professor, recently one of my neighbors was proud to tell me she got knocked up by her teacher when she was 15. As much as I wish I could magically create change in one day, new ideas have to be brought on slowly, and I have to understand that slowly can mean anywhere from a few years to a few generations. I also have to accept the fact that some girls are encouraged by their family to give professors what they want, after all professors have a lot of respect in the community, and being a professors girlfriend might elevate that girls’ family’s social status.

As a tumblr quote once told me “change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end.”

To sum up this rant, a song one of the female counterparts taught us at the conference: “Educar uma mulher e educar uma nação, educar um homem e apenas educar uma pessoa,” educating a woman is educating a nation, educating a man is only educating one person. Needless to say, it was very controversial between the men attending the conference, but it is still some food for thought.

Mulheres, Hoye!

Before moving to Mozambique, I had never needed to be this aware of my gender. So far, I have not been able to spend a weekend without being reminded that Sexta e dia do homem, Friday is the man’s day. I have been told that if I want to get married, then I better hurry up and learn how to cook, clean, and take care of a man. I have been told that I shouldn’t be living alone because I need a man to guard me. I have been told that my man’s bike (who knew that was such a thing?) makes me look both masculine and promiscuous. I have been told to wear more skirts, more dresses, more makeup. I have been told not to accept drinks from men because it is seen as a promise of sex later that night. I have gotten out of threatening chats with police officers by making false promises of one day showing them the United States. I put up with kissy sounds and whistling as I walk to the market in the equivalent of PJ pants, and have to tell the market men, that no, I do not want them to come over so I can cook for them.

Being a woman in Mozambique is difficult. Not just an American woman in Mozambique, but being a Mozambican woman in Mozambique is difficult.

Today, Friday, April 7th, we celebrated Mozambican Women’s Day. A day of commemoration of the death of the first first lady of Mozambique, Josina Machel. I spent the morning at various ceremonies around town with my female colleagues, (6 out of the close to 90 professors at my secondary school are women) wearing matching capulanas, looking chiquey, and watching various dances, theatrical pieces and songs being preformed. Some of my male students and other professors have stated to my face that its’ ridiculous that there is a day dedicated only to celebrating women. So here’s a list of reasons why women (here but also everywhere) need to be celebrated (and not just once a year!)

  • Mozambican women wake up at 3am, cook, clean, get water at the well, wash clothes, wash the dishes, bathe the kids and some then go to work. The cycle then repeats. Multiple times a day, every day.
  • Almost 50% of girls in Mozambique will be married off before the age of 18.
  • Last week, Malema’s administradora strongly recommended women to denounce their husband to the police if he was physically abusing them, but NOT to divorce them, because women are the glue that hold the family together.
  • The female literacy rate in Mozambique is 28% compared to 60% for men.
  • It is a common occurrence for school professors to sleep with female students in order for them to pass a class.

It has been proven time and time again that empowering women can be the solution to developing countries’ economic growth. But it all starts the population acknowledging the hard work that women all over the world do. In the words of the quintal music blasting around town, “ha uma coisa que voces tem que saber, e que a mulher tem força.” There is a thing you need to know, women have strength.

Currently blasting out of my bluetooth speakers as a subconscious reminder to my whole bairro.

I am fine, and you?

I’ve been putting off writing about teaching, because it hit me that before doing Peace Corps, I thought teaching was going to be the most overwhelming and important part of my time here in Mozambique. It turns out that it is quite the opposite, teaching has quickly become the only normal, scheduled thing about my life, and though teaching here is the exact opposite of what I imagine it to be like in developed countries, I am somehow getting the hang of it.

My mornings begin at 6:30, with a line-up of what is supposed to be all the morning students (about 2,000 of them) to sing the himno and listen to announcements. Announcements can sometimes be infuriating— “ladies, lipstick is not allowed, you look promiscuous, keep that for the weekends” while calling out the girls who have broken the rules to stand up and get their faces wiped by the director. Other announcements include threats to cut off the tie off of the uniforms if they are not tied correctly, and a personal favorite, the announcement that said they would never interrupt the himno no matter what– said right after a girl fainted in the middle of it, and no one budged until the 4 minute song was over. 

English classes begin at 6:45, with a chant of “Good morning tee-cha, how are you?” to which the response is always “I am fine, and you?” “We are fine, thank you.” The first period is always the slowest to start as students who sometimes don’t have an alarm tend to walk in late. The classrooms are barren—  broken chalkboards, chalk, stolen lightbulbs, and in the background- the smell of breaking pit latrines. My turmas average between 84 and 102 students. At the beginning of the year, there were enough desks for three students to share each one, some have since broken, others just disappeared, so the late-comers are forced to sit on the floor. I am Teacher Leonora, teaching 11th grade English, a government issued curriculum that includes going over the future conditional and writing their resume in English for homework on week one. The reality of my students’ English is that we have gone over the conjugation of the verb “to be” four times, and many still are having trouble grasping the concept of an infinitive, let alone understanding the homework directions when they are written only in English. I can’t blame the students for not being up to the standards of the curriculum when their 10th grade teacher had the reputation for kicking students out if they didn’t do the homework, (or talked in class, showed up late, answered a question wrong… etc) causing an endless chain where they missed the next day’s homework, thus never making it back to class.

Teaching without textbooks also makes it borderline impossible to stay on track with the curriculum. My school has just a single copy of the English textbook to share between three teachers— it is rumored to cost about 500 mets ($8) but no one knows where to find other copies. Needless to say, the students have no textbooks. A small notebook and pen is what they are armed with when they come into class — copies cost 2 mets ($0.03) each, and teachers don’t pay for them themselves, students (who have no jobs as the  unemployment rate is Mozambique is above 30%, even higher for youths) find themselves with their only resources being the words they’ve copied down in the notebook (which are usually copied wrong, in addition, there have been many reports of stolen notebooks at school).

Needless to say, inventing methods to keep class interesting(ish) and using the very limited resources available to me have at least forced me to be creative, and I think I might be in the running for coolest teacher in Malema after bringing in my portable speakers and playing Justin Bieber’s Boyfriend to teach the conditional. On the other hand, it is fatiguing to know that many of my students might not pass the year if they don’t pay a bribe to the director, and sometimes it is hard to admit that I am (attempting to) teach English as a third or fourth language to kids who might never use it other than saying “I am fine and you?” to the white person they see walking around town.

But I am fine, I would even say I am good (though, that does seem to throw off my students in the mornings).

Flirting with Energia

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I am writing this blog post from my orange plastic chair, sitting on my veranda staring at the gray covered sky and wondering if the sun is going to pop out anytime soon. Looks like a hard no. Shucks for my solar charger, looks like my phone is staying on airplane mode. Energia in Malema has played more hard-to-get than a middle school crush.
“7 poles down in Mutuali” is the text I got from my sitemate. As I chapa-ed into Malema early this morning, (after a failed trip/broken down car yesterday) I was worried by the sense of silence coming over the town. No speakers, no shitty bass and bad quality Mr. Bow songs were being played. Energia seemed to be out, and at this rate, it probably won’t come back for another 4 days.
This was quickly confirmed by the staff at the bakery “não temos pão” they stated, as their industrial size mixers don’t work when electricity is off.
During my first seventeen days at site, eight were spent without electricity. This week, I’m averaging more than 60% of my time without it. Recently, as the afternoon sky turns dark and the strength of the winds make the raindrops turn to quasi-cyclone, I know to unplug all my electronics (especially my most prized possession, a brand new chest freezer) to make sure that the power surges and shutoffs don’t fry my them.
Without power though, cooking becomes difficult. I have sustained multiple days on a diet of crackers and piri piri sauce as dinner, coconut cookies for dessert. Cold powdered milk with coffee counts as a source of protein right? Cucumbers don’t need to be cooked? Recently I almost teared up over an avocado, I found at the market, a welcome addition after three days of eating plain crackers.
Falta de energia also means that the ladrãos can come out in full force. Five of my outdoor lightbulbs have been stolen, since they are easy to resell and grab when they are forcefully turned off. Hopping four foot tall fence has created a steady source of income for one neighborhood asshole, who’s stolen those lightbulbs, three pairs of shoes, my shampoo, conditioner, scissors and now my laundry detergent in the past few weeks. I now know better than leaving stuff out, but I have no choice for the lightbulbs.
Nights without energia are stressful. Last time the power went out, a gang of four from the other side of town broke my neighbors wall and stole his generator at 3am, not without first tying up all the neighbors front doors from the outside, so they couldn’t come to his help when he realized what was going on.
Without light and not much to do, fatigue hits me too early, and I find myself back up and awake at midnight with no battery to play phone games, no comforting sounds of the barraca music playing and the beer bottles clinking. Every sound becomes a threat and I patiently wait for the 4:30am call-to-prayer, which reminds me I’m not the only one awake at this time.
Though I have grown to like the rain, a relief from the afternoon heat and a bearer of more exciting fruits and vegetables than just tomatoes and onions, I am already looking forward to the dry season- where I’ll be sweaty but at least my electronics will be charged and my dinner won’t be half cooked waiting for my electric stovetop to work again.

An ode to my white Converse

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Don’t bring anything that’s white to Africa, they said, advice I chose to ignore as I packed three crisp white t-shirts and my favorite pair of shoes, stained, broken into, cracked Converse that fit my feet like a glove. My lucky shoes that matched every outfit and would be worn in every flight I’ve taken since 2013. My converse have walked miles and miles with me. Been painted blues and yellows by a holi festival, gray by São Paulo pollution, red by Mozambican mud, green by French grass, beige by Portuguese sand, and even once brown by dog shit on a DC sidewalk.

As I go through a weird range of emotions about my shoes getting stolen right out of my fenced-in front yard, I have to remind myself how out of touch with my community I am being. Yesterday, walking my sock and shoe-covered feet carefully through the rain and the mud, I ran into children, and grown men carefully navigating the streets filled with rocks and broken glass bottles, barefoot.

My Converse cost more than one months rent in my two bedroom house.

I’ve had multiple friends who have gotten their entire houses emptied out by theives, leaving nothing but a frying pan and some t-shirts. I have no right to be mad about someone taking the opportunity to protect their feet or re-sell them and be able to pay for school fees.

É a vida, and I might be using the thought of someone breaking into my quintal as I was sleeping as an excuse to get a guard puppy.

Mpepe

With rainy season creeping up on Malema, storm filled afternoons have been occurring more often since getting to site. As the ground soaks up the water quickly, the thunder and deafening rain falling on my tin roof are a refreshing reminder that I won’t have to fall asleep covered in my own sweat. The rain on the tin roof also serves as a alarm, to remind me that before dusk arrives- I have to make sure to close my front door, cover the crack with a capulana, and/or keep the lights off in my house. Otherwise, the mpepes get in from every manner possible.

Mpepe are a mystery bug that appears out of the ground the day after it rains, they are about the length of my finger and fly around my veranda lights until they’ve bumped their heads too many times, lost their wings and fallen to the ground. All night, I can hear them buzzing and bumping, and in the morning, I get the lovely surprise of piles of dead or dying Mpepes that I have to carefully sweep off.

The story doesn’t end at the dead bugs. My two-year old twin neighbors, Dana and Danny, snuck into my quintal a morning after an Mpepe invasion and as they were watching me sweep, started picking up the dead bugs and munching on them. With Mozambique going through a chicken (and wine) shortage, before the holiday season, Mpepe is a welcome source of protein. One of the neighborhood mães gave me her Mpepe recipe: some oil, tomato, green pepper, salt, and a tiny bit of water and then you boil them just until they get crispy. I lied to her and said that I would try it one day, but honestly my newly acquired fear of having an allergic reaction to anything while living alone tells me I’m going to have to avoid the local snack for the time being.

My bug acquaintances haven’t ended with the mpepes, I recently found a scorpion on my kitchen floor (a reminder to tuck in my mosquito net extra tight every night) and the other day when what seemed like an ancestors of the dinosaurs, a four inch flying terror (that turned out to be a longhorn beetle) fly right into my face as I was preparing dinner, and then didn’t die after being sprayed by an entire can of bug spray and being hit dozens of times by my chinelos. Needless to say, the group of seven of so lizards that squat in my house now are slowly becoming my best friends.

Church in Makhuwa

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On Sundays, I’ve started going to church. As a disclaimer, I’ve never really gone to church willingly on my own, but since Peace Corps training had us so worried about making sure we integrate into our communities, I told my landlady I’d accompany her. I figured showing face to church-goers couldn’t do me any harm, and it’s not like I have anything better to do on Sunday mornings.

Most of my time at church is spent swatting flies off of me, wondering how many beads of sweat are going to fall off my face, staring at different patterns of capulanas and wondering why they aren’t symmetrical. Sometimes my time in church is spent making faces at the babies, but that hasn’t worked out too well because babies who cry in church get death looks from (at least) the four benches surrounding them.

Though the mass is officially in Portuguese, most, if not all of the songs are in Mahkuwa, so my Sundays spent in church have also become my place to figure out if I can clap to the beat (I still can’t… for those of you wondering.)

This Sunday after church, my landlady said she wanted to introduce me to the community of Mutuvazi A (my bairro) at their own prayer service on Wednesday. Wednesday came around and I had totally forgotten (halfway hoped she had also forgotten) but around 2pm she came to pick me and take me to the dirt building 10 meters down my path, where I was thrown into a church service completely in Mahkuwa. Lots and lots of paying attention, standing sitting, following the hand movements and signs of the cross of those around me, attempting to clap to the beat, and spacing out later, I hear-  blah blah some sounds, louder sounds, softer sounds, senhora professora, more blah blahs. Uh oh.

As I got up to present myself “Ensina Naka Leonora” (which represents about 67% of the Mahkuwa vocabulary I know), I continue through- stuttering in Portuguese “I’m going to be a professor here at the secondary school, I usually go to church on Sundays at the paroquia, I didn’t know this service existed, but since I might be teaching on Wednesdays, I probably won’t be able to attend this service, blah blah thanks for having me in this bairro, Malema is wonderful.” I am welcomed by claps and ei-lei-lei-leis. One lovely lady in the far left corner reminds me that it doesn’t matter if I don’t come to church, I just have to make sure to give my contribution (25 meticals weekly I am reminded) to someone who can drop it off in my name (uh ohhkay lady). Then some quasi-important guy sitting next to the priest says something. 

“Estas occupada?”

I wonder… Occupied?… then it hits me, occupied is a false cognate. This man asking me if I’m single in front of the priest? Oh my… I don’t think Jesus would be too happy about that. 

Vakhani, vakhani

Vakhani, vakhani is the new Makhuwa phrase I’ve been living by, it means pouco a pouco, little by little, petit a petit. It has also turned out into my pick up line on how to make friends at site (any attempt at speaking Makhuwa makes all those around me laugh (with at me). I’m going on day five at site, and as some of my friends are finishing up their final exams stateside, I feel the same fatigue that I used to feel when I was studying for mine.

After a bittersweet swear-in ceremony at the Ministry of Education, all 64 of us volunteers stayed at a chiquey hotel one final night, ordering pizza poolside and drinking beers at neon lit bars in creepy, quiet corners of Maputo City, before boarding our respective planes and chapas to go to our permanent sites. Turns out, my 6:30 am flight prioritized a commandante and his friends and decided to move me, three other PCVs, ten Chinese businessmen and a few Mozambicans on to the next flight (this entire ordeal deserves its own blog post which I will write later, I promise).


24 hours, one plane ride, a hostel stay, a supermarket stop, a final restaurant meal, and a five hour chapa ride later, I made it to the villa of Malema, just as dusk was settling in. A fifteen minute walk into the bairro behind the market and I was handed the seven keys that open up my fortified, grated up house. Inside: two bedrooms and an array of turquoise-blue and lime-green walls. Furniture-wise: na-daaa. My sitemate and I ran back to the market, found a mattress store and quickly bought one in a hurry, paying a kid to bring it back to my house.

That night I slept on a plastic covered mattress, no sheets (since my luggage wasn’t arriving until two days later), covered by various articles of clothing and a halfway attached mosquito net. Only two cockroaches the size of my index finger got in, so it was a luxurious version of camping, if I can say so myself.


Day two: the rain brought down to electricity poles in the next town over and I wouldn’t know it until later, but Malema would be out of energia for 72 hours. Without electricity, I didn’t have the terabyte of movies and TV shows on my hard drive to resort to, so instead I figured it was time to meet the family that lived across the street. Mid afternoon, I pushed open their quintal door and introduced myself to two of the kids, stuttering a little bit. “Hey, uh I’m Leonora, I just moved across the street and I’m going to be a French and English teacher at the secondary school over , so if you guys have any questions about those subjects, just drop by.” Sure enough, two hours later, the girl that would become my first friend from the bairro, Idelsa, came over and sat in my gazebo, “I want you to teach me English.” Uh ok, of course.

Again, that night we were without electricity, my electric kettle wouldn’t work, so my instant soup dinner option would be was quickly pushed aside for a pack of coconut cookies and the remainder of my 1.5 liter of water. By 6:30pm, it’s pitch black outside, no comforting sounds of bad quality speakers blaring Mozambican hip hop remixes, and no blue light flickering from TV screens across the bairro. Just me, my headlamp, my sheetless mattress and my phone at 31%.

6:30am the next day, I am woken up by repeated “com liscensas,” excuse-mes, of the neighborhood kids knocking on my quintal door. Excited to have friends, I open it up, dish out some Portuguese picture books and next thing I know, there are at least sixteen kids, jumping rope and fighting for the books. I’m having a conversation with one older kid, Faizo, who tells me he’s a seventh grader, taking his truck to America next week to sell wood, when Idelsa comes into my quintal and says out loud, “Tia Leonora, don’t talk to him, he’s the neighborhood ladrão (robber), he’s been to jail two times already.” He acts all awkward and tells me not to believe her, while Idelsa and the rest of the group go on to tell me that he’s been kicked out of his dad’s house for stealing from him. Well, well, well. Emotions are about to get the best of me, so I tell everyone to go home as I have to prepare lunch.

I shut my quintal door, lock it, and break down crying. Idelsa, from her house, can see into mine, went to get two neighborhood Mães to come in and console me, telling me not to cry, that I have to be a strong woman, and I can’t tell people that I’m living alone. So here I am, a 22 year old senhora professora in tears in front of my new neighbors who are barely older than me, running their own households with at least four kids, consoling the new white girl, there being a huge possibility that I am the only white girl they’ve ever talked too. Welp, at least I’m making a name for myself.

Just as I’m calming down, I hear the beep beep of the Peace Corps car, and see the Peace Corps country director and the Peace Corps director of the north walk into my quintal, carrying my heavy luggage, a little appalled and confused by what is going on. I’m still in tears, now more embarrassed than ever, hoping they will count this as “integrating into the community.” The Mães and Idelsa are all trying to explain to them why I’m crying in a combination of Portuguese and Makhuwa, while I’m trying to introduce my newfound friends to my chefes, which leads to one of them going off with the ladrão’s sister to give a stern talking-to to Faizo’s own mom, who promises her son is a good kid. My landlord joins this party, only to explain to me and my concerned country director that I don’t need to let everyone in my quintal and that the only time he was every robbed was when his brother took his corn without asking…. so I should be safe as long as I don’t leave corn or buckets lying around my quintal.

In the words my friend used the other day:


On the bright side:

  • After three days, my energia came back on (and every time it does, there is three entire minutes of cheering from all the kids in the neighborhood, who are excited they won’t be missing yet another episode of Chiquitillas.)
  • My gazebo is now known as “a escola” where kids fight over alphabet cards and the four Portuguese paper back books I have. They are usually com licensa-ing on my quintal door the second I open my front door (it’s almost like they have a sixth sense) but without them my house would feel so so lonely.
  • I finally found an empregada, who is going to sweep my quintal, wash my clothes and bring me water three times a week (which solves the first problem of me still not knowing where the water tap is… and the second embarrassing problem of still not having the force to carry a ten liter bucket on water- whether it be on my head or in my arms).
  • And most importantly, my house has a mango tree and my landlord’s little brother climbs it every morning to pick the ripe ones and give me them.

So life is going vakhani, vakhani, and (even though I’m counting down the days until Christmas, where I can see my friends, drink some wine and speak some English), I’m starting to really like it.