Investigating Zavala

The mango trees are everywhere!

Since I’m stuck in bed with a terrible cold, I’ve decided to take this time to consolidate my blog from when I was volunteering in Mozambique. For 7 months I taught at a teacher training school. This was originally posted on December 17, 2007.

The sun is a predator here. You can run under a tree to find asylum, but he can smell your smoky flesh. He pierces you through the gaps in the leaves until you admit defeat. He could easily kill you at any time, but has decided to torture you instead. And so, he hovers over his victim until you are nothing more than a melted soul in a charred body. This is not the same sun who brightens the day and supports life. It is his sinister brother who is only capable of withering, wilting and melting all that he sees.

My students!

Ok perhaps I’m being a little melodramatic, but it really is hot here. I wrote this while supervising my students while they interviewed farmers in a remote village in Zavala. Since none of the farmers speak Portuguese (there are five different tribal languages used here) I did a lot of smiling, nodding, and creative writing. The farmers are all very nice and they gave me armfuls of mangoes, bananas and coconuts. I’ve developed quite an addiction for mangoes. They only cost 1 medicais at the market (that means you can buy 25 mangoes for a dollar)!

For the last two weeks my students were on their investigation period. That is a time when they go into small villages, and talk to every person there asking questions about agriculture, education, health, and environment. We were staying in an abandoned school house ten kilometers from a road, and even if you walked there, the road led to nowhere. I felt so isolated.

Everyday we woke up at 5 in the morning to do chores. We were sleeping on the floor of the schoolhouse, with no electricity, or running water. Every morning, we thoroughly cleaned everything, did the laundry, showered with a bucket of water, ate breakfast and rushed to be out of the school by seven. We would start the day by talking to an administrator, but they never came to the office before 9. I couldn’t understand why we rushed to be there so early just to wait around for two hours. I tried to talk my students into sleeping in for an extra hour, but they were far too responsible. I’m starting to think they’ve evolved to not need sleep. They hang out until three or four in the morning and then wake up after an hour of sleep, looking so refreshed. It’s creepy.

I've never seen a bull in the sand.

After a slight snafu (which I will write about soon) the second week was amazing. Everyday the students wanted to show me something cool. They took me to a beach where they let the bulls run loose. I went to this huge sand dune and we slid on the sand all day long. They talked to farmers to let me plant some crops for them. It was quite an experience. Once everyone in the village heard that there was a white person visiting they all wanted to see me. Kids would follow me in huge groups. Sometimes a brave kid would run up and touch me and then run away laughing. A traditional dance tribe visited one night to teach me a dance. They made me perform it in front of everyone. There were a lot of hip thrusts, and moves that only dogs make when they are in heat. My students cheered and laughed the whole time. I was quite humiliated, but they seemed to enjoy it.

The street completed eroded after a rain storm

During my second week, the rainy season started. I have never witnessed rain like this. We had a tin roof, so every night I woke up because of the pounding rain. At night I would try to prepare myself for the roof collapsing, and I’m still shocked that it never did. There were so many holes in the roof so no matter where I slept I woke up drenched. And in the morning the land is completely transformed. Some roads were washed away. Everyone is outside repairing their houses. The air was so saturated with water I felt like I was swimming in a hot tub.

And now I must describe these visits to the farmers in more detail. First you need to find the tribal chief to get his permission to talk to his people. Next you walk for about an hour to find a house because everything is so spread out. One time we tried to talk to a family, but we got permission from the wrong chief and her son came out with an axe and we had to run away. I think he was just trying to scare us, but I wasn’t willing to stay and find out. Usually it’s much more calm. When you walk up to a house the people ignore you at first. After standing awkwardly for a few minutes they bring out their chairs and let you sit down. Then they do the introduction. They mutter a sentence in Bitonga, a local language, without making any eye contact. You are supposed to respond with a barely audible grunt, then they say another sentence and you grunt again and this goes on for quite a while. After that you can conduct the interview. If you are really lucky they will present you with water. Since they walk for hours to get water, they usually don’t offer, but if they do you should be very flattered.

One of the stoic farmers

Drinking water in the small villages is like a fine wine tasting. First the youngest child brings the bucket of water to show you the vintage. Then she scoops up a little bit and presents it to the oldest male visitor. He holds the water up to the light and swirls it around to make sure there is no sand or bugs. He takes a sip, swishes it around in his mouth, and gives a satisfied nod of the head. Then the child will fill the glass up all the way and everyone drinks from it. Fortunately there is no spitting; however there is no cheese either.

The happy beach trio.

When the two weeks were done I was happy I experienced it, but eager to go back home to Inhambane. As soon as Pricilla, Jerome, and I saw each other when we got back to the house we were so happy we started to cry. They were on investigation too. We went strait to the beach and stayed there for two days and slept on the beach. We met amazing people for those two days. A dance group came to perform and we told them about our school and they are going to perform for our students after the New Years. We met some people that do micro-financing and they really encourage us to do it as well, and they said they would give us guidance. It is so easy to make connections here.

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