Mozambique

Top 10 Most Amazing Places: #9 Mozambique

Ok, I’m the first to admit it. I’ve been super spoiled. I’ve traveled everywhere and there’s not a day that I don’t reminisce and recognize how lucky I am. Here are some of the most amazing places I’ve visited:via. Wikipedia

Inhambane, Mozambique

Although I went to Mozambique to be a volunteer and expected my time there to be a great sacrifice I actually had a lot of fun. Inhambane (pronounced In-yum-bonni)  is about an 8 hour bus ride from the capital, or a 45 minute plane ride from Johannasberg, South Africa. The bus ride shouldn’t take so long, but the border passing can take 3-4 hours and the roads are terrible. Sometimes we drove in the ditch along the road because that had less potholes.

My neighborhood for 7 months.

I lived in the bush for 7 months with a few other volunteers. We had a little turquoise house with chickens running everywhere. Electricity was rare, and there was no running water. We used an outhouse and bucket showers. To get water, we either used the dirty rainwater well (which made me sick for a month) or walk a half mile to the well. Everyone in the community knew me, and when I’d go for walks and get lost even strangers knew where I lived, and were able to walk me home.

Me with two of my students.

I went to Africa thinking I would need to be on guard all the time, but I’ve never felt safer in my life. I hitch hiked everywhere I went, something that I would never do anywhere else. I met amazing people while I was hitch hiking and even visited two different families in South Africa after they gave me a lift. When I’d tell people my reason for being in the middle of the bush (I was a volunteer teacher at a teacher training school) they’d usually buy me lunch and offer to let me use their beach house for the week. I was constantly surprised by people’s kindness and hospitality. If you don’t feel like hitch hiking you can also take a chappa but you can’t be claustrophobic or sensitive to smell.

I was at the beach whenever I was free.

The two beaches of Inhambane, Tofo and Barra, are insanely beautiful. It was only after I arrived that I learned these beaches are internationally renowned for the scuba diving, and people come from all over the world to see the Whale Sharks. My great regret is not taking a scuba diving lesson while I was there. It was about $500 which was my stipend for 6 months so I couldn’t justify doing it, but now that I look back that seems really cheap for a once and a lifetime experience. Oh well, you live and you learn.

The peaceful beach!

 

The beach was along the Indian Ocean and the water was always warm. The sand was soft and white and on most days I was the only person for miles. One of my fondest memories was running along the beach at sunrise with my friend, Pricila. The colors of the sky reflected on the wet sand and it felt like we were standing inside a rainbow.

The laid back, friendly night life.

 

 

During the busy season there were 200-300 people tops. It was mostly Australians, South Africans, Germans and Swiss. Since the area was pretty small everyone got to know each other really fast and it always felt like a giant party with all your friends.

The city of Inhambane was an hour long drive from the beach. Again it could be faster but the pot holes are so bad. This is where I’d go everyday to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables. At the time I was reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma and I realized that all you need to do to escape poor health is not live in a developed country. The food was really fresh and healthy there.

The colorful details!

 

Inhambane city was adorable. Mozambique is a former Portuguese colony (they speak Portuguese, if you were wondering), and you can really see the influence in the architectural features of this city. The building’s were all bright colors, and there were blue and white tiles everywhere. When I visited town, I felt like I could be anywhere in the world. the restaurants were delicious, the Indian ocean was always in view, the people were friendly, and the market place was exciting and unique.

My favorite part of living in Mozambique was having three distinctly different lifestyles; The cosmopolitan city life, the modest rural life, and the fun nightlife of the beach. Inhambane is definitely a place to visit.

If you can't afford to stay at Flamingo Bay you should definitely go there for lunch!

 

If you’re on a budget rent a bungalow on the beach at Fatima’s. It’s only about $10 a day. If you want real luxury, stay at Flamingo Bay (that’s where I took the header picture for my blog). It cost about $500 a night but your hut is on stilts in the water and when you wake up you’re surrounded by millions of flamingos. Don’t miss the full moon party at Dino’s. Verdino’s and Sem Ceremonia are excellent restaurants in the city. And don’t forget to drink a 2M beer!

The rest of the top 10 list:

Nothing better than drinking from a coconut on the beach1

Nicaragua
The Catskills
Portugal
St. Petersburg
Nepal
Israel
Vieques
Turkey

My Most Embarrassing Story

(This was originally posted in December of 2007. I am consolidating my two blogs.)

This is quite embarrassing, and if you’re easily grossed out skip this post. The malaria pills I was prescribed for my time in Mozambique causes yeast infections in 2% of the women who take it. I found out I am one of the unlucky 2%. Of course the damn yeast infection struck during my investigation period, when I was with 18 of my male students in an isolated region of Mozambique. There was no way I was going to tell them about my feminine problem.

The cockroaches in our shower. Would you feel clean?

I’ve never had a yeast infection before or after, but I’m going to guess that walking an average of 10 miles a day in 100 degree weather made it much more painful than usual. I came back to our abandoned schoolhouse almost in tears every night. I tried to get treatment at the hospital, but they had no idea what I was talking about. I even went to the local witchdoctor, but she didn’t understand either. Since the word for yeast and bread are the same in Portuguese, they thought I was saying that I had a bread infection.

I had treatment for yeast infections in the emergency kit back at my house in Inhambane, but I had to wait two days to get permission from the school director to go back by myself to get the medicine. Those were the most miserable days of my life. And the worst part was that no one believed that I was sick because I couldn’t tell them what was really wrong.

On Sunday morning my students walked me to the chappa stand (chappas are the main form of transportation in Mozambique. They are used minivans that fit up to 30 people). There were no direct chappas to Inhambane so I had to make four connections. My students talked to the first driver and told him to take care of me. Whenever the chappa arrived in the connecting town the driver would walk me to the next chappa and would speak in Portuguese, thinking that I didn’t understand. They would say, “this is our sister and she’s sick. Make sure she gets to Inhambane safely.” I never felt so well taken care of.

The trip should have only taken 4 hours but it ended up taking 7. On one of the longest rides, I was sharing the front seat with two ancient women who were sitting so closed to me that I could feel the peach fuzz on their cheeks. One asked me to hold two of her tied up live chickens on my lapSeriously? The chappa was from the former Soviet Union, and I’m pretty sure it was old enough to have driven Stalin around town. It stalled every time we got below twenty Kilometers an hour, and considering we stopped every ten minutes to pick up people, we had to get strangers to push the chappa and get it started again.

Celine Dion performing "Taking Chances&qu...

Image via Wikipedia

On this particular ride I went a little insane. I looked out the windows at the passing red roads, and the women carrying buckets of water on their heads. Celine Dion was crooning on the radio. Sweat was running down my face. The foul stench of twenty crushed people in the back seat was heavy in the air. The chickens were clucking in my lap, my lap that was burning more than my sun burnt face. I started crying, and I mean really crying. “Why am I here? This would never have happened if I stayed in America,” I cried. But then out of nowhere I just started cracking up. I started thinking about how I will tell my grandchildren about the time I got a yeast infection in Africa and I had to drive for 7 hours with chickens to get the medication. And then I couldn’t stop laughing. This time a huge smile broke across my face, and I thought, “yeah, this never would have happened if I stayed in America!” The two old ladies took note of my insanity and inched away from me which made the rest of the ride much more comfortable.

When I got to my house all of the kids in my village came running up to me to welcome me back. I don’t understand how they knew that I was coming back and that I was sick considering they don’t have phones, internet, or mail. They carried my bag in the house and even got water from the well for my shower. I took the medicine, took a shower, and then I slept like I never slept before.

Teaching in a one room school house.

The next morning I caught the chappa to Zavala and headed back to my students in a much better mood. My crotch was no longer on fire. When I got back to the school my students looked shocked. They thought I was lying about being sick, and that I was sneaking back to America without telling them. As soon as I walked in they all ran up to hug me and cried, “Mommy Tracy, you came back!” From that point on I won them all over. They still call me Mommy Tracy, which is funny because most of them are older than me. This is the first time I’ve been called “mommy” by twenty year olds without it being a come on.

The moral of the story is always carry Monistat with you when you travel. Or at least learn how to say “yeast infection” in the local language.

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.

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.

Work Ethic

I’m sorry for not posting for so long. I’m in Barcelona with my boyfriend, so you know, not hangin’ around the computer much. But I did feel guilty not posting. Since I’m unemployed, blogging kind of feels like a mini job. A job that I love doing (in fact, while on a bus ride between Salamanca and Segovia I was thinking about how much I wanted to blog. Strange? If only I could get paid to ramble.) So since I wasn’t doing my mini-job, it got me thinking about work ethic.

While in Madrid I was staying at the Cat Hostel (yes, I picked it for the name, and a part of me was hoping there would be a resident cat, but that part of me was disappointed) and I decided to extend my stay for an extra night. I went to the reception desk at 11:30 and asked the guy if I could extend my reservation. He looked at me and politely asked if I would mind coming back at12 to do that. I said sure, but asked him why. He said that he was changing shifts at 12 and he’d prefer not to do a reservation during his last half hour of work. Well that just shut me up. How can you argue with that logic? I had no idea that Bartleby, the Scrivener, could get a job in this modern day.

The next day I had a leisurly lunch outside the Museum Lazarious. When I got there there was a business lunch happening between a boss and three employees. From what I could understand (they were speaking in Spanish) they talked about art, politics, philosophy, their families, vacation plans, and everything else but work. Well that´s not true. After about an hour I heard the boss suggest that they work a half day on one of the many Saint´s days that they usually have off. The three employees agreed that that was out of line and they wouldn’t do it. At that point one of the employess laughed and said they would soon start working like Americans.

I am continually getting hit over the head by how much American´s work, and how we are the laughing stuck of the rest of the World. While I was at the Language school, Don Quijote, and I told them that most Americans only get 2 weeks of vacations, their jaws droped. When my Spanish teacher complained about how in Spain people only have 4 months of maternity leave, one person from Switzerland was outraged. They apparently get 2 years of maternity leave. Yes 2 years.

It seems like everywhere else personal time is considered sacred, and no boss, no schedule, no responsibilities get in the way of it. If you’re in a store at 1:30 in Spain and you are about to buy something it doesn’t matter, the clerk will kick you out so that she can take her two hour break. There doesn’t seem like there’s any hurry to get things done. No drive, no work ethic.

And here’s where I feel torn. I’m not sure if this extreme is a good thing. I like this attitude while on vacation, but I remember it driving me crazy while living in Mozambique. I remember waiting weeks before having a meeting with my boss. Everyday he would say “manana.” It would take months for a short fence to go up, because the workers were taking breaks every five minutes. Dinners at restaurants would take hours, not because you were enjoying the food, but because you were waiting for the waiter. I would hear every foreigner say, “Mozambican’s are just so damn lazy.” And these were usually European foreigners saying this.

I’ve done a lot of traveling through Southern and Eastern Europe, and I’m always amazed by how little people work. But in Europe, they’re not seen as lazy, it somehow seems like the people are defending their rights, like their refusal to work on small holidays is a political stance. “WE WILL NOT BECOME AMERICA!” Is this hypocrisy just a symptom of Post-colonialism?Will laziness in former Colonies always be viewed as a negative, but laziness in post-imperialist countries always be viewed as an inalienable right? 

Now how did America, a former colony, escape the stereotype, and even become know as a country who works too hard? Well that must come from our Puritan background. Puritans, who were mostly Lutherans and Calvinists, believed that a certain number of people were pre-selected to be saved by God. Since it was impossible to know if you were pre-selected it was thought that a strong work ethic was a consequence of being God’s chosen one and therefore, if you worked hard enough, you were probably going to Heaven. It’s true. Wikipedia said so!

So take that Puritan background, and mix it up with Capitalism, and you end up with a country that has 24 hour Drug stores on every corner and a waitress who’s 8.5 months pregnant serving you coffee at midnight so you can finish your work reports. We are so tied to the capitalist identity that we sent secret troops into Nicaragua, and sold weapons to Iran, just to get back at Russia, our sworn enemy. And why was Russia so bad? It was presenting an alternative lifestyle to capitalism. Pure evil I tell you!

Geez! It’s not often I get to make references to Melville, Weber, and the Iran Contra affair within one conversation. I should be telling you about Gaudi’s awesome architecture (amazing) and the beach (amazing) and the old Gothic quarter (amazing), but one of the reasons I came to Spain was for the HeSo project. I’m doing the things I love, and trying to see if I can make a job out of it. So of course, work is on my mind. I’ve learned something very important about my work ethic while in Spain. I’ve realized that while I love the relaxed attitude of the Mediterranean, I also need to feel a sense of energy and accomplishment. In other words, I don’t want to work like an American, European, or Mozambican. Mmm I guess I need to travel some more to find the ideal work ethic 😉