6 Things I Learned during my First 2 Weeks in Mozambique

Our new pet chicken!

(This was posted in my original blog from when I was living in Mozambique – I’ve decided to consolidate the two blogs.)

1. It is impossible to sleep-in in Mozambique. If you are still in bed after 6 am you’re crazy. By that time it seems as if the entire village is outside my window singing songs, banging pipes together, and killing chickens. Not to mention that my window is just a screen with bars in front of it, so there is really no privacy. Even when we slept over at the beach on our day off I couldn’t sleep in. We rented a hut on the beach for five dollars. I couldn’t wait to get some extra sleep, but then at 6 on the dot the men in town started constructing a new hut right next door to us. No one should be hammering at 6 in the morning on a Sunday. That’s just ungodly.

Some of my students - only an hour late for class.

2. There are two ways you can behave here: Really really stressed out, or really really relaxed. Fortunately I have gone for the later. There is no such thing as a schedule here or a time frame, or even a clock. I have never seen such an absence of clocks in my life. If you want things to be done at a certain time, or if you like to make plans, Mozambique is not the place for you. Flavia was supposed to teach a course on Exell three months ago for the teachers here. She runs around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to get all the teachers together for the course, but they always say tomorrow. I need to stay at the school from 8 am to 9pm, but I only have a class for the first and last hour. I usually sit under a tree for those hours studying Portuguese and all the students will come to me to ask questions about English and America. It’s very informal, but for now there is not much more I can do.

3. They really know how to throw a party here. Our neighbors, who we rent our house from, were celebrating their birthdays, anniversary and their car all in one party. They never had a party before so they wanted it to be a big deal. For the week leading up to it there were about twenty women working in our backyard. When I’d go out for a shower at 6:30 they would already be butchering a pig, plucking chickens and shelling beans. They would work until midnight doing this and then pass out on our kitchen floor. The night before the real party they threw an extra party for all the people who were helping. I was walking to the outhouse late at night and when I turned the corner and there were more than fifty people silently sitting in front of a fourteen inch t.v. watching a Jean Claude Van Dam movie with no subtitles. It was quite a sight. The next day the actual party started. Everyone in town was there. They paraded up and down the road singing a song with more harmonies than a Shoenberg 12-tone composition. Then they feasted on every kind of animal possible for the next few hours. Every important person from the community gave a speech congratulating the family, even the mayor spoke. Next the dancing broke out, and this is serious dancing. Even the eighty your old women were getting their grooves on. The party lasted until the last person passed out, which was around three in the morning.

I'm not actually smoking - I just found this floppy cigarette and thought it was funny.

4. They love to have meetings. Especially if nothing is decided during those meetings. They will go on for hours, last Friday we had a meeting from 8 am to 3 pm and the only thing we could decide on was that we should continue the meeting next week. I think they only do this because we get free coca-cola if the meetings last longer than three hours. That said:

5. There is nothing better than Coca-Cola. Nothing.

6. Different cultures have very different ideas of what’s appropriate. It’s pretty distracting when my students pick their noses during class. Apparently that’s a very common and accepted past time here. It’s also appropriate for someone to groom you while you are talking. I’ll never get used to a stranger brushing dirt off my chest, or another teacher wiping off my butt. During our last meeting my director asked me if I was pregnant in front of all the other teachers. I couldn’t believe he did that, but then he said he was joking because I was wearing a kind of shirt that only pregnant women wear.

My Early Days in Mozambique

I’ve decided to consolidate my blog from Mozambique with my current blog. I lived in Inhambane, Mozambique as a volunteer from November 2007 – June 2008. I was teaching English, AIDS/Malaria prevention, agriculture, and pedagogy at a teacher training school. Here’s the first original post, but I’ve added some extra pictures!

My neighbors’ houses

Well, I’m here, and I’m happy. That’s a lie. I’m ecstatic. I love it here. Every five minutes Pricilla and I look at each other with big goofy smiles and say, “we’re in Africa!”
It was quite an ordeal to get here, however. Once we boarded our plane for Johannesburg, it was delayed for six hours, and we couldn’t leave the plane. They didn’t give us food or drinks that whole time either. Every hour the pilot would give another excuse for why we were not taking off yet.

Just when we were ready to leave, a woman fainted from claustrophobia and emergency medics had to come and take her away on a gurney. But twenty hours later we landed in Johannesburg with only a few pee-in-your-pants moments of turbulence.

We were so excited to land and meet our Brazilian friends who landed before us, but then Iliana was detained at passport control because she didn’t have a proper visa. Apparently Guatemala is one of the only countries that needs a visa to enter South Africa. We were running all over the airport to try and find a solution. This was at nearly 1 in the morning after being on a plane for 25 hours. Since half of us needed to catch a bus at 6 in the morning the next day we needed to leave to go to the hostel. Ben, Jonh-soh, and Jacoby ended up staying with her, since they had to catch planes the next day and got her a plane ticket for the next morning to Maputo. It was nerve wrecking. The rest of us got to the hostel at 2 and then woke up at 5 to catch the bus. It was an 8-hour bus ride, but it wasn’t so bad.

These are what cashews look like before they’re processed.

We stayed in Maputo for one day to sign contracts and adjust. When we went to buy groceries for lunch, we just walked over to a machamba, small vegetable gardens that everyone grows here, and asked for some vegetables. The man walked over to the lettuce patch and pulled out a head of lettuce for us and some tomatoes. It doesn’t get any fresher than that.

We rode on chappas into town. I had read a lot about chappas in other people’s emails but I never really understood what they are really like. They are converted minivans that are the most common form of transportation. Whenever one comes by a sworm of thirty or forty people run after it. Then they all push to get into it. It’s so intimidating. We waited for over an hour to get on one because we were too scared to fight in the crowd. There is no way you are going to believe this but there were 31 people in the chappa, again the size of a minivan. I was squeezed between two guys armpits. People were sitting on the smashed out window sills with their butts hanging out and there were about four people in the trunk space. We rode like this for 45 minutes.

The next morning we caught another bus. This time we had to wake up at 4 in the morning. We said our goodbyes to the rest of the team and Pricilla and I prepared ourselves for a nine-hour bus ride to Inhambane. It was quite an eye opener. It was sad to see how Mozambicans talk to each otherThe driver sold tickets to fill all the seats, but then right as we were about to leave he kicked off half of the locals that were on the bus. He said to them that they were just extra luggage and that foreigners pay more for their luggage to have a seat. There was a lot of yelling but eventually the locals left the bus, and the driver gave them back their money.

I didn’t understand why they were kicked off because half the bus was empty, but then we went and picked up about fifteen white people from a nearby hotel. Mind you there were twenty seats on the bus and thirty people with tickets. It was jam-packed, and people were sitting on luggage in the aisle. We drove like this for four hours. When we stopped in a small town, I thought we were going to drop off some people but the driver ended up picking up his family. The five of them brought on huge bags of rice and crops and sat on top of the roof.

My new toilet!

The roads were so awful at one point the driver drove on the side of the road because it was less bumpy. It took us an hour to drive twenty miles. When we got to Inhambane Flavia picked us up. I was so happy to see her. She took us to our house to see where we’d be living for the next year. It is a very cute, bright blue house across the street from the school. I have to share a bed with Flavia because they usually don’t have this many Development Instructors here. We also live with Tamsin (from England) and Jerome (from France). We have no running water and no flushing toilets. But we do have electricity sometimes, which I’m very happy about. There’s a well outside that we get our water from for our showers. We have to get the drinking water from about a half-mile away. The outhouse is hilarious. There are two cement foot shaped things that you stand on and then a tiny hole that you use. The smell isn’t too bad. 

We were so exhausted after the bus ride and the tour that we fell asleep at 4 in the afternoon and slept until eight the next day. That is when we went to the school for the first day. One of the students showed us around, and it’s a pretty clean and modern compound. We talked with the directors about what our responsibilities would be. I’m going to start off teaching English, and in December I’m going to travel around Mozambique with the students for the investigation period. I was so glad when they said we could have the rest of the day off because I had such a headache from trying to understand the Portuguese.

My first picture of the Indian Ocean!

When we got back to our house, we decided to take the hour and a half long walk to the nearest town. When we got there, we met these two guys from South Africa who were so nice. We told them it was our first day, and they offered to show us around. We drove everywhere in a nice air-conditioned car. Then they took us to their hotel on the beach, and we got to swim. It is the nicest beach I have ever seen, and we were the only ones there. The water was the perfect temperature. They said they never saw two people so happy to be in the water. There’s nothing like the Indian Ocean!

Then they took us out for dinner and told us all about the situation in South Africa. They are Africaans (I’m not sure if that’s how you spell it) the descendent of the Dutch settlers in South Africa. They said that all of the white people are trying to leave South Africa because it’s impossible for Whites to get jobs there. A lot of them are moving to Mozambique, Australia, and the UK. They said the guy who will probably become the next president hates white people and wants revenge for the Apartheid, so they want to leave before, as they said, “shit hits the fan.” It was interesting hearing this perspective of South Africa because I usually only hear about peaceful it’s been since the end of the Apartheid. At the same time we were talking to the local waiters and they were saying that they didn’t like all the white South Africans coming in and buying up the prettiest land, but that they can’t complain because Hotel owners offer a lot more jobs and they improve the roads and the water.

Next, they drove us to all of the hotels in the area to introduce us to the owners. When we told them we didn’t have running water they all said that we can come to their hotels whenever we need a hot shower. We got their numbers and they said to call anytime if we need help. It was so invaluable to make these contacts on the first day.

Afterward, we all laid out on the beach and watched the stars. I have never seen so many stars in my life. It was an incredible evening. We all agreed that it was a blessing to meet each other. The two guys then drove us home and made plans to meet up again. They are here purifying water, so we are going to try and get them to teach an evening course at our school about how to purify water.

Unfortunately, we found out the next morning that we were in big trouble. We didn’t know that we had to ask permission to leave the school any time we go out. I’m realizing now that we really won’t have any personal time. We don’t have free weekends, and we can’t go out at night. It’s going to be very hard to adjust to this lifestyle. I want to teach, but I also want to meet as many people as possible and have lots of different experiences. The director said that if I want to do that I should go home. Tamsin and Flavia told us that he pretends to be really mean at first because he wants to have control over everyone. I’m hoping it will get better. It’s hard to know that the easy life is so close by but I’m not allowed to enjoy it, but it’s a good lesson because that’s how it is for most of the world.