Saturday, August 3, 2013

Two Week Break From School: ADVENTURE TIME!

Hello everyone! I am safely back from my travels, and ready to jump right into the final countdown! I spent the last two week school break traveling through Malawi and Mozambique, and am now back at site with a little over three months to go in my Peace Corps service. I had a great trip, and I am excited about the exciting challenge ahead! My two weeks of traveling were full of long, dusty days of travel, great food, new friends, and some truly beautiful sites! Although there were some rough days on the road, the trip was great! Here are some highlights of the adventure:

  Cheesecake as we cross the border into Malawi

Sunset and the first star of the night over Lake Malawi

A 10 hour train ride through beautiful scenery!

Ihla de Mocambique (Mozambique Island)
A 7 hour hike through the lush jungle searching for elephants in the mountains of Manica!

So, now I’m heading into my very last trimester as an English teacher in the Peace Corps.  It’s hard to believe that the last two years have gone so quickly, but I’m not done yet. There’s still so much to do! There are two youth leadership workshops to put on, an English theater piece to prepare with my students for the provincial competition, classes to teach, and as you all know, a basketball court to build! All the students and teachers, including myself, have been away from school for the last two weeks, but now it’s time to get back to the grind. That means, carrying more rocks, sand, and water to our construction site, transporting the cement and all the other materials from the provincial capital, and putting it all together! The players have already been practicing the best they can on a dirt court with a soccer ball (which as you can imagine is hard to dribble), and are so excited to continue with construction!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Building a Basketball Court In Mozambique!

Some of my REDES girls and I reunited after my evacuation!
Hello friends and family!  First of all, I would like to let everyone know that I am safe, and after a 2 week evacuation from my village due to political unrest in the central part of the country, I have returned to my site and am diving right back into work. This unexpected time away from site has put me a little behind on a few of my projects, the most important being a basketball court and HIV/AIDS education program in my village. As many of you know, I am currently serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mozambique. I live in a rural town in the Province of Tete, and I am working with my village to build a community basketball court. I facilitate a girls leadership group at my school called REDES (Raparigas Em Desenvolvimento, Educação, e Saúde, TRANSLATION: Girls in Development, Education, and Health). It was  this group of 6th-10th grade girls who came up with the project as a way of helping their community, and I am doing everything I can to help them achieve their goals. The project aims to construct a basketball court and HIV/AIDS awareness mural as a means of addressing several community needs. This court and incorporated mural will address not only the need for positive youth extracurricular activities, but it will provide an accessible route to community HIV/AIDS education. Upon the court’s completion, the space will be utilized not only for sporting events and physical education classes for grades 1-10, but also for monthly health workshops and HIV testing campaigns, and countless hours of fun and learning. The community, and especially the youth, are very excited about the project and have already begun to accumulate materials at the building site. The community has pledged to not only provide a substantial amount of the construction materials (including bricks, quarry rocks, sand, and water), but they have pledged their time in the form of manual labor. I have been journeying into the African bush with my students to gather rocks and sand for the construction and everyone is working very hard! Thanks to everyone for your kind words and support, and please continue to wish us luck on this project as there is still a lot to be done!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Stomping Out Malaria In Mozambique!

      Hello all, sorry for the very long blog hiatus, but I’ve been having lots of adventures, near and far! I am now back at site and have internet, so expect lots of updates about my recent travels in the next few weeks. I would like to kick off my return to my blog with a contribution to Peace Corps Mozambique’s Stomp Out Malaria Initiative. April is world malaria month and as Peace Corps volunteers in Africa, malaria is a dreaded yet very present element of our lives. Let me paint you a picture of the malaria situation in Mozambique, and more specifically in my community.
                Of the plethora of deadly diseases in Africa, Malaria is the most lethal of them all in Mozambique. Not AIDS, not mal nutrition, but malaria.  It accounts for the most deaths country wide and is responsible for approximately 46% of all deaths of children under 5. Those most vulnerable are those who are HIV positive, pregnant women, and children. Furthermore, of the various types of malaria in existence, Mozambique hosts the most dangerous kind, associated with cerebral malaria and most difficult to cure in advanced stages. I’m definitely not a doctor or very scientifically inclined, but here goes my malaria breakdown. There are two main vectors to infection: humans and mosquitos, and both need to be present to maintain an epidemic. In Mozambique, malaria is transmitted year round, and although many people reach levels of immunity, 100% of the population is at risk. The immunity that people born and raised in the country acquire is not always effective against the disease, and women lose this immunity when they become pregnant, putting themselves and their unborn child at risk. The Mozambican malaria culprit is the female anopheles mosquito. They like fresh clean water, feed between 6pm and 6am, and can travel up to four kilometers. Once infected, a host may not exhibit symptoms, but is still capable of transmitting the disease through mosquito bites to others. The symptoms further complicate the situation as they include headache, fever, nausea, body aches, fatigue, and at a more extreme level, anemia, kidney failure, and coma. As you can see the majority of symptoms could be attributed to any number of ailments, or basically daily life in Africa, and many people wait too long before being tested, thinking they may just have eaten something bad or have the flu.  However, the saddest part about the malaria situation, is that the disease is preventable, manageable, and survivable with the right resources, resources that are not available or not utilized by much of the population. For example, despite the constant stream of potentially malaria infected patients, the local health clinic in my community is frequently out of malaria tests and treatment medication.
Just two weeks ago, the baby of a close friend of mine was diagnosed with malaria. He had a dangerously high fever and was not recovering. His frightened mother waited 5 hours at the clinic just to be told that they had run out of medication. She then traveled to the nearest town, but that clinic’s medical stores had also been depleted. She tried three more rural health clinics with no luck, and having wasted two critical days, returned downtrodden and worried to her home. The next morning, she made the long and expensive trip in to the Provincial capital, but none of the public clinics could help her. She was forced to go to an expensive private clinic, where she spent nearly ¼ of her family’s monthly income on the medicine her baby needed. Others are not so lucky. Others do not have the resources to travel to the city or to purchase medicine from private clinics. Others live too far from health centers to be tested, and still other are too scared of the testing process and of the potential results to make the trek to the hospital.  However, there is hope in this situation. Malaria had been eradicated in many locations around the world, and hopefully one day Mozambique will also find itself rid of this deadly burden. Efforts are constantly being made to decrease infection, and by spreading awareness, hopefully the world will take an interest and help Africa deal with its most dangerous killer.  We are working towards this dream in many ways. Through wide-spread mosquito net distribution, the disease can be greatly controlled. In areas where 80% of the population sleeps under nets, malaria infection is typically reduced by 50 %. Early diagnoses and treatment is also important. As humans are a vector, identifying, quarantining, and treating those infected with malaria, keeps the disease from being transmitted to others in the vicinity. Furthermore, efforts to help pregnant women avoid malaria are being made. As pregnant women lose their native immunity, they are provided with two doses of prophylaxes and bed nets, free of charge. However, both doses must be taken, and as many women live very far from health centers, only 10% actually complete the dosages. As part of Peace Corps’ Stomp Out Malaria imitative, volunteers are working at a grassroots level to reduce malaria in our thousands of sites throughout Africa and are conducting online awareness campaigns to spread the word! As lack of information and resources is the main problem in my community, I am working on a local health fair highlighting the dangers, means of transmission, and ways of preventing and treating malaria. The fair will include a bed-net give away and will hopefully help contribute in a small, yet meaningful way to Stomping Out Malaria in Africa! I am truly lucky not to have had malaria so far (KNOCKING ON JUST ABOUT EVERY WOODEN SURFACE IN MY HOUSE RIGHT NOW), but many of my fellow volunteers have felt the painful wrath of anopheles mosquito. From what I hear, it is one of the most miserable experiences of one’s life, and I am hoping to make it through this last 7 months of my service malaria free. Much love to you all, and if you are lucky enough to be reading this from a malaria free zone be thankful!

The culprit

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Wildlife

Picture yourself on the African savannah  A hot wind blows through your hair as you gaze over the dried grasslands which stretch for miles in every direction.  As you look towards the horizon, you spot a herd of elephants silhouetted by the setting sun and as you make your way towards the nearby watering hole, you encounter a teeming mass of wildlife. Zebras, giraffes, gazelles and wildebeests converge on the precious water, taking their chances against the lurking crocodiles.  It is scenes like this one that bring people from across the globe to the plains of Africa. Thus far however, I have yet to encounter a single example of classic African wildlife. Instead of elephants, lions, cheetahs, giraffes, or zebras, I have been experiencing a different perspective on African wildlife- the creepy crawler version of the circle of life.   Instead of majestic cats or awe-inspiring herbivores, I have been immersed in the world of insects and reptiles, and their populations are increasing at an alarming rate.
                This week has been a week of my African Big 5: mosquitoes, lizards, spiders, wasps, and snakes.  As the rainy season is in full swing, my usually quite barren site is teeming with life.  The constant supply of standing water, left over by the daily rains, has created a mosquito paradise. They emerge every morning and dusk in malaria infested swarms, and I spend these mosquito-dense hours doing whatever I would normally be doing (lesson planning, reading, spacing out and pondering life, etc.) in the safety of my mosquito net. On the plus-side, mosquito bites are such the norm among the population right now that whenever a sunscreen induced pimple appears on my face, my neighbors just assume it’s a mosquito bite.
Unluckily for the mosquitos, lizards have been hatching left and right. I counted 10 baby and adolescent lizards in my house today alone. They range in size from under an inch (the adorable teeny-tiny newborns) to over 9 inches (I’m assuming their mothers). The lizards however, are my favorite intruders. They eat mosquitos, they are clean, they are not venomous, and we get along fine.
         The spider population has also been increasingly lately. As spiders help control the mosquitos and flies, and I’ve never been afraid of them in the past, I was fine with my resident spiders, but lately there have been just too many. The majority of my spider roommates are a large, incredibly flat species which is not dangerous or aggressive and I generally leave them alone, but this week there were at least three hatchings and some of them had to go. There are also a few spiders that closely resemble scorpions  and they are always a lovely surprise.  The last straw came in the form of a tarantula sized spider falling from a web onto my foot as I opened my front door a few days ago. I instinctively stepped on it and the amount of guts that went flying was shocking. I decided it was time for my  eight-legged house-mates to find a new home, so  yesterday I went  on an epic cob-web cleaning spree and swept as many spiders as possible out of my house. With a plastic bag tied around my head to protect my hair from angry soon-to-be-homeless spiders and sunglasses on to protect my eyes, I went to work evicting those who had over-run their welcome.
Now, let’s move on to the wasps. I am not a fan of the wasps. They are huge, loud wasps and have incredibly painful and toxic stings. Although I have luckily not been bit, I have seen the effects of their stings on others, and it is not a pretty sight.  I spend hours of downtime stalking them with a fly swatter reinforced with packing tape. They are fast, but my fly-swatter turned wasp swatter skills are improving.
If you noticed, we are moving from my favorite intruders to my least favorites, and here we are at my very least favorite of the creepy crawlers - the snakes. Even in the United States I had a somewhat irrational fear of snakes. But here, where 9 of the 10 most dangerous snakes in the world are found, the fear seems a bit more rational and is, in all honesty, bordering on constant terror. Luckily I have a pair of snake-proof boots (like SUPER rain boots) that are great for wading through potentially snake-infested puddles or walking through suspiciously tall grass.  However, my most recent, petrifying snake encounter did not occur on an overgrown path, in a murky puddle, or even while chopping the grass in my yard, but IN MY HOUSE.
It was around 11 pm, and I had just finished lesson planning. It was way past Mozambican bed time, so all my neighbors were fast asleep. I went through my regular nightly routine of brushing my teeth, washing my face, putting on my pajamas, and then I went to lock the iron gate on the outside of my door, something I do every night. I reached into the darkness to grab the gate and felt something move as my hand brushed against it. I pulled back my hand and instantly jumped back just as a long, black snake fell to the floor.  I thought I was going to have a heart attack, and I have honestly never been as scared as I was in that moment.  The snake was coiled and still. Although it was not huge, it was probably about 3 feet long and was very black. Although I did not know if the snake was venomous, black mambas, one of the most dangerous snakes in the entire world, live in Mozambique, so I panicked, jumped into my snake books, and rushed to my kitchen in search of some sort of weapon. I managed to find a large stick and a kitchen knife. I whacked the snake with the stick. It didn’t faze the slithering beast. The snake began gliding quickly across the floor, so I struck again, this time inflicting some damage, but still the snake was moving across the floor. By this point I was standing on a chair, sobbing in fear (I have never in my entire life cried from being afraid) and did the only thing I could think of. I threw the sharpened kitchen knife at the snake, slicing through its body. Now there was snake blood everywhere, and those of you who know me, know how I feel about blood. Finally the snake seemed to be on the road to death, but it was still moving and I was therefor still terrified. After whacking the snake for what seemed like a tear-filled, heart-racing eternity. It finally ceased to move.   I timidly and still trembling removed the snake’s body with the stick, locked my door, and worked up the courage to clean up the snake blood. Needless to say, the experience was nightmare inducing and I did not sleep that night. I have been on high snake alert ever since. I conduct at least two snake-searches of the house a day and keep various snake-killing weapons stashed around the house.  On the plus side, the neighborhood children and even the adults were very impressed that I was able to kill the snake by myself, and my snake-slaying skills have been the source of great respect from my community.
 Although the encounter was one of the most terrifying experiences of my entire life, I have to admit it was also slightly humorous. I mean a crying person wearing pajamas standing on a chair in the middle of the living room wearing pajamas and rubber snake boots throwing knives at a probably harmless (but then again MAYBE NOT) snake would be pretty funny to an observer (who was not afraid of snakes and who knew for certain that the snake was harmless). If the snake actually was harmless, I feel bad about killing it the way I did, but I still don’t know what kind of snake it was, my neighbors seem to think “it could have bit me” whatever that means, and in the moment all I could think was IT HAS TO BE A BLACK MAMBA, so I’m standing my panic- induced decision.
Not all the creepy crawlers are overwhelming or scary though. There is a really cool giant centipede that lives in my shower and keeps its distance and there are always a few cheery, brightly colored beetles around.  This week I had the privilege of finding a beautiful, and surprisingly large, beetle-like bug with a red and black shell and very sticky feet.  In an effort to avoid terrifying all of you, this is the picture I have chosen to include. Check out this cute little guy sitting on my rain-soaked cement porch. Hopefully one day I'll get to see some elephants or zebras, but for now I'll be content with the cute little beetles. As always, much love to you all and thanks for reading! 

One of the cute creepy-crawlers 

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Goat Rescue

So as I’ve had several requests for an elaboration of the goat incident, here it goes. I spent Saturday in Tete City, the provincial capital. I have to go there to go grocery shopping so I make the trip every week or two. Any adventure to Tete is usually exhausting since the city, which is along the banks of the Zambezi River, is regarded as the absolute hottest point in Mozambique and probably all of Southern Africa. Most travel guides suggest staying away as the heat is overwhelming for visitors, but since I don’t have a market in my town, I spend a fairly significant amount of time in one of Africa’s hottest cities. Luckily it’s a fairly clean, friendly city, and although the shopping trips are sweaty and exhausting, I enjoy them. Whenever I go to Tete, I spend at least half my time sitting in a restaurant with air-conditioning and stalling as much as possible while on errands in air-conditioned locations. My favorite restaurant has MULTIPLE air-conditioning units, giant fans, falafel, and ice cream….it is paradise.  However, the power was out on Saturday so Helen and I were left to run our errands amid the blistering heat without the promise of an air-conditioned oasis lunch. All was not lost though as the market was better stocked than usual, I found a fresh pineapple that I could afford, and eventually the power came back on.  Needless to say, when I arrived back home that afternoon, I was pretty tired. However, there would be no time for relaxation.
                As soon as I had put down my backpack and begun to unpack my precious cargo of fruit, vegetables, dried beans, rice, powdered milk, and peanut butter, my 7th grade neighbor came by with bad news. She timidly told me that a goat was in my latrine. Now, I have to explain that goats are frequently in my latrine. They use it as a shelter when it is raining or when the sun is too hot, so I thought she was just informing me about the usual goat trespassers, but something in her tone warned me otherwise. She then told me to come look, so putting my shiny new jar of peanut butter on the shelf, I followed her outside to my pit latrine. My latrine is a cement structure with a tin roof. The floor is cement and has an opening cut in the middle of it with a very deep pit below it (probably about 10 feet). Although a wall provides privacy for the user, there is no door, hence the usual goat intruders. These goats USUALLY stay away from the hole, sensing as any intelligent goat would, its impending danger. Furthermore, the hole, over which the user must squat to do their daily business, is too small for most goats to fall through. It was just big enough however for a young goat to get itself into quite a crappy situation…literally. You could even say his life was in the pits at the moment. The poor thing had somehow managed to fall through the hole in the floor and into the deep, incredibly disgusting contents of the latrine. The goat was now crying and crying, calling to its mother or anyone who would listen, or probably just crying about how much of a bummer being trapped in a pit latrine is.
                I was startled, sad, and worried all at once. I asked my neighbor what she thought we should do. She said the only option was to leave him in there. Not willing to believe this, I went to talk to other neighbors about the situation. They seemed much less alarmed then I was, informing me that this happens all the time and blaming the goat’s owners for not keeping better track of their animals. Neighbor after neighbor told me that unless I could find a legendary old, drunken man who wanders the town and has been known to get goats out of latrines in the past, the only option was to leave it. However, this was definitely not an option in my book. The thought of having to take care of my daily “bathroom” business on top of a slowly dying adolescent goat was not only unthinkable for me, but sent me into a panic-driven frenzy to rescue the goat. I went back to my house, looking out for the old drunken wanderer, but he hadn't been seen for months, so that option was basically out. When I got home, I put on my headlamp, cut down my clothes line to make a lasso, and headed back out to the latrine. Shining my headlamp into the dark, feces-filled abyss, I could make out the goat. I secured my headlamp even tighter to insure it too was not claimed by the pit, and lowered the clothes-line lasso into the depths. The smell was appalling. As I tried to get the lasso around the goat’s body, it retreated into the corner, into the space under the floor of the latrine, where I could no longer see it. I handed over the lasso to the neighbor and went to a nearby tree to pick some leaves, a favorite goat snack. Throwing the leaves into the pit in an attempt to lure the frightened animal back in to our sight, I couldn’t help feeling incredibly sorry for this poor creature. What a predicament!  A few of my students who had come by to see what I was doing tried to help by making goat calls, trying to get the animal out of hiding. After several unsuccessful attempts to fish the goat out with my make-shift lasso, we had attracted a substantial crowd of onlookers, who once again advised me not to worry and to just leave the goat. I was getting frustrated. There was no way I was leaving a goat to die in my latrine. I mean it already smells bad enough and what an awful, AWFUL, AWFULLL way to die! No animal should have to suffer like that. I was beginning to panic due to everyone else’s lack of motivation, and my thoughts were racing. Was there any way for me to fit through the hole, climb down, and get the goat? I could take a really long bucket bath after. Could the goat be coaxed to climb into a bucket if I lowered one down?  Could we dig a tunnel through the side of the pit to retrieve the little guy? WHAT IF I HAVE TO POOP ON TOP OF A DYING GOAT EVERYDAY!???? AHHHHH…I think I would go home if that was the case.  So in a last attempt to inspire motivation and get the on-looking kids on board with the rescue, I offered 100 meticais (all the money I had in my pocket) to the first one to rescue the goat. 100 mets is about $3, but was a small fortune to the neighborhood kids.  Immediately they sprang into action. Goat rescuing contraptions began to materialize out of every possible resource. There were harnesses made of twine and attached to long sticks, a similar invention made of plastic bags, various ropes and cords, and even some offers to climb into the latrine. I refused to let any children climb down the hole…a goat stuck in the latrine was one thing, but I definitely did not want to responsible for getting a kid trapped in there.  After a few hours of attempts, altering the contraptions, re-coaxing the goat back into sight, and confused looks from passing adults, the winning contraption came into being. Two of my students made a lasso-like attachment out of yucca leaves and connected it to a long stick. I handed over my headlamp and wished them luck. They spent the next half hour or so trying to capture the goat. I was just about to give up on them when I heard a commotion inside the latrine. I had a sudden fear that they had dropped my headlamp in the ominous pit, but realized almost immediately that they were cries of victory, and the goat cries were definitely less muffled! Just then, the goat came storming around the corner of the latrine, flustered and very dirty and followed by the victorious goat-rescuers. I quickly snapped a picture of the group and asked them not to release the goat until I gave it a bath. So, after having a few buckets of water dumped on him and a heartwarming reunion with his mother, the little guy’s nightmare was over, two of my students became the richest kids around, and I when nature calls, I can use my goat-free latrine once again. Although a stressful incident at the time, the goat rescue brought me closer to many of my students, taught the onlookers that not everybody thinks it’s ok to leave goats to die in latrines, and was actually pretty entertaining in hindsight.   You’ll be pleased to know that I have since reinforced my goat-guarding mechanisms and have redesigned the latrine lid to be heavier and not easily pushed aside by a stumbling baby goat.  Thanks for reading everybody and much love to you all! Until the next adventure!
The Goat Rescue Crew  in front of the culprit latrine 


Friday, January 25, 2013

A weekend in the mountains!

I have been super busy this week! Aside from my usual hours of sitting in the shade trying not to get heat stroke and pondering life, this week I also went on an a rejuvenating adventure to the town of Zóbuè, finally started teaching, and discovered a new soy product from Malawi that kind of tastes like chicken and doesn't have to be refrigerated! I’ll start with the Zóbuè adventure.
Aside from Helen, who lives half an hour (in a car) northeast of me, my nearest volunteer neighbors are about 4-6 hours away (depending on transportation) on the border with Malawi. I spent last weekend exploring their beautiful mountainous site. As the chapa (public transport mini-bus) began the climb into the mountains marking the Mozambique-Malawi border, the scorched, dry plains began to transform. Lush greenery, fields of towering corn, and even some fog increased exponentially as we climbed, and looking out over the mountainous landscape, I felt at home.  Aside from my 6 months studying abroad in Ireland, I have always lived in the mountains, or at least in sight of them, so there was something incredibly comforting about once again finding myself on high ground.  When we arrived in Zóbuè, we were met by our wonderful hosts and wandered through winding, bustling trails to their home. We had brought some cheese from the city, and since our hosts have an oven, we had a delicious pizza lunch! When Peace Corps volunteers get together, especially in houses that have ovens or refrigerators, delicious meals are usually concocted, and this weekend was no exception. With the luxuries of a refrigerator, an oven, and most importantly abounding fresh produce our culinary possibilities were infinite! So the first day we had pizza for lunch and decided on a Mexican picnic/ mini-hike for dinner. We spent the rest of the day exploring Zóbuè. We visited the school, some neighbors, and a very impressive market, fully stocked with everything from clothing, shoes, and dry goods to fresh-baked bread and heaps of veggies. It was in the market that I found Soya. This chicken-like soy product is made in Malawi, and not only is it a super affordable protein source (about 25 cents a packet which makes three meals), but unlike real chicken, it doesn't have to be refrigerated!  Beans have been my primary source of protein these last months, and although I really like beans and have created tons of delicious bean dishes, I was super excited to diversify my protein intake! I bought 5 packages and hoped they would taste good (turns out they are pretty good! Like I said, tastes kinda like chicken). As we continued our walk around town, we encountered lots of friendly neighborhood children, endless fields of corn, and even a chameleon!
That evening, we climbed a nearby ridge, quesadillas, fresh salsa, and guacamole in hand, and had a magical Mexican picnic dinner as we watched the sun sink behind the surrounding peaks. I could not have been happier. I mean mountains and Mexican food…what more could I ask for? We had attracted a crowd of on-looking children who found everything about the situation strange. Why were the foreigners climbing up the mountain to eat their dinner? What were they eating? What were they saying to each other in their strange language?  They inched closer and closer, until we returned down the mountain in the twilight. After sitting around and chatting, it was off to bed, and I slept incredibly well since for the first time in months, I actually felt a tad bit chilly!
The start of the hike
The next morning, we were up bright and early for our hike up Mt. Zóbuè. We set off in the early morning light, and wandered through the towering corn fields of the valley before beginning out assent. We encountered several homesteads and friendly people along the way. As we began the steep climb, we discovered that what our hosts explained was usually a clear, fairly simple to follow path, was now an overgrown jungle due to the recent rains. So we began to make our way up the mountain, sending the dog ahead to check for snakes and slowly but surely, we made our way up the steep slope. The scenery was spectacular. We found ourselves climbing through lush greenery, rocky slopes, and eventually even a forested area. Being in the trees, looking out over the sprawling green valley below was truly rejuvenating. Even the oversized stinging nettles were a welcome change and reminded me of home. After a dirty, hard climb we scrambled up a rocky crevice, through a sun-filled clearing, and on to the mountain top.  We made it! As we crested the peak, we looked out over the seemingly endless mountain ranges and valleys of Mozambique and Malawi, and sat next to a cement pillar marking the Malawian border to rest and hydrate. After enjoying the beautiful scenery and some cookies, we took photos and got ready to head back down. We arrived back home tired, sweaty, hungry, and dirty, but content. It was an excellent adventure and we made it through snake-bite free and with some great photos! After some much needed showers, we headed to a nearby restaurant for grilled chicken and cold beers-a perfect way to end the hike. 
Walking through fields to the base of the mountain 
On the way up

Helen and I making our way through the jungle!

At the top! Looking out over Malawi 

                We spent the rest of the day relaxing, visiting with neighbors, and of course cooking. We made delicious curried pumpkin and naan for dinner, then spent the evening watching movies. The next morning, Helen and I made our way back to our sites, and I found myself once again confronted with the daunting heat of my village. However, after the rejuvenating weekend adventure, I felt energized and excited for the week ahead!

Technically this week was the 2nd week of school, but it wasn't until Wednesday that there were any students. I did get to start teaching though which was great. I really missed it and had a great time teaching introductions and greetings to my still super small classes. I am going to have between 50-70 students in each of my classes, but this week there were only about 15 in each. Some are still working in the fields, taking advantage of the rains, some have malaria or cholera, and some just haven’t decided to come back to school yet for whatever reason. However, this is normal here, and other teachers told me not to expect full classes for another two weeks. So this week was spent teaching whatever students showed up, cleaning out the classrooms which for the last month have served as homes for the wandering herds of goats, and getting to know my fellow teachers. The classes that I did have went well, and the students who were there seemed excited and ready to learn. The ability level in each class is very diverse, and after giving a diagnostic test, I was surprised by the literacy levels of many of my students. Although the majority of the secondary school students can understand Portuguese and seemed to have a grasp on very basic English, there are others who do not understand Portuguese and who are unable even to write their names. So, I have spent this week revamping my curriculum and syllabus in an effort to accommodate the many different levels of my students. I am the only female teacher who will be teaching full-time at the secondary school level, however there are many women teaching primary school l (my school is attended by students from 1st-10th grade), and all and all I have wonderful colleagues. They have been very helpful and kind, and I am grateful for their welcoming attitudes, friendship, and explanations as I am learning the ins and outs of teaching in Mozambique.   Now hopefully next week, we will finally have full classrooms!

Since I have Fridays off, I spent today doing laundry and cleaning my house. Laundry in Mozambique is a process. Today it involved getting up at 5am to get to the well before the morning rush to pump water. I pumped my water and lugged the two heavy buckets back to my house, amid impressed onlookers. My neighbors always ask me why I don’t just tell a student to get me water, but I actually enjoy the task. Although physically exhausting, I always enjoy chatting with the other women who are waiting to fill their buckets, and upon reaching my house, my daily water supply in hand, I always feel a sense of accomplishment. Laundry day involves a few of these trips, then the hours of hand washing, before hanging my clothes to dry on the line outside my house. Today was a great day to dry laundry. Not only was it tremendously hot (105 degrees), but it was also very windy. It felt like I was in a hairdryer, but it was great for my laundry, and everything dried in less than an hour- even my jeans! So now, I’m off to take my evening bucket bath- one of my favorite times of the day. I carry a bucket of water out to the brick walls that act as my “shower.” The roofless structure allows me to look out at the tree tops, sky, sunset, and even the early evening moon overhead as I wash away the day’s stress, sweat and dust, returning to my house squeaky clean  (feeling clean is a luxury in the Peace Corps) and refreshed. Tonight I will even get to put on freshly washed pajamas! Better get out there before it gets dark! Thanks for reading!  Sending you all lots of love from Mozambique! 
A little girl in Zobue finds time to play in her basket while selling tomatoes. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

2013 So Far

Happy New Year everybody! I hope 2013 is off to a great start for you all! Here in Mozambique, butterflies have been emerging from their cocoons all over the place (seriously, there are swarms of butterflies exploding out of every nook and cranny of my house), monsoon rains have become a daily occurrence, and the seasonal bug infestation seems to have transitioned from giant beetles to giant ants. In other news, the first week of school is finally here! I found out yesterday that I will be teaching all the 8th and 9th grade English classes at my school, and should have around 550 students. I’m also going to be the coordinator of the English department and the director of one of the 8th grade classes, so I will be extremely busy this year! It should be quite a challenge, but I’m excited to have so much to do, and am really looking forward to meeting all my students!      

The school and view from my front door...not a bad commute 
Here in Mozambique the school year starts in December and yesterday we had the 2013 opening ceremony. It “started” at 7:30 (which is what time I got to school full of energy and in my nicest professional attire), however, most of the other teachers and officials didn't show until around 10. I forgot to account for “Mozambican time.” So around 10:30, the ceremony began with the national anthem. Everyone was impressed that I already knew it, but not nearly as impressed as when they asked me to plant a tree during the next phase of the ceremony. The crowd looked on in wonder as I expertly dug the hole, removed the sapling from its bag, placed it gently into the hole, making sure to leave room for its roots, and replaced the soil with my hands…all without dirtying my dress pants. Thank goodness for my northern Californian childhood and the extensive tree planting experience that entails.  During the tree planting ceremony, a first day of school tradition here, several trees were planted on our school’s grounds. They are tokens of good luck, strength, peace, and of course FUTURE SHADE for the upcoming school year and were planted by representatives from the local government, the teachers, and the parents. I was honored that they asked me to represent the teachers in the ceremony, and I can’t wait for my tree to become a much needed oasis of shade for the community.  
My house! Check out all the new rain induced greenery! 
The next stage of the day involved opening remarks by several officials, a health officer, and the director of my school. I was very impressed with the messages these speakers brought forth. They spoke of the importance of addressing gender equality in education, of our responsibility to respect linguistic and cultural diversity, of the need to preserve national unity, of the need for health education and care, of the teachers’ responsibility to improve the quality of instruction in Mozambique, and of the district’s plans for the expansion of primary education into rural, hard to reach locations. As a Peace Corps volunteer, these issues are at the heart of my work and it was incredibly uplifting and encouraging to hear these thoughts resonated by the administration.
a beautiful post-rain sunset from my backdoor
The words of the health officer who spoke were especially eye opening to me. As an education volunteer, I spend most of my energy on school-based projects and teaching, but the words of this inspired young doctor really opened my eyes to the need for health education in my school and community and I hope to get a few health-based projects going this year. As the torrential  rains of the monsoon season dump amid window rattling thunder, the dry scorched earth is revived, greenery springs from the earth in the blink of an eye, and the usually stupor inducing heat slightly decreases.  Corn, beans, and manioc, the staples of the Mozambican diet, are celebrated at the dampened earth allows for planting, and the people are hopeful that the rains will continue and lead to a good harvest. But there is another side to this would be joyous monsoon story. For along with the life giving water, comes life taking disease. Along with the moisture and “cooler” temperatures come swarms of malaria bearing mosquitoes  In the past week alone, five people I know have contracted malaria and the rainy season is only beginning.  Aside from malaria, the daily downpours have resulted in flooded latrines, contaminated drinking water, and cholera outbreaks. I feel truly grateful to have my Peace Corps issued mosquito net, water filter, and medical kit, but it is breaking my heart to see the way these diseases are ravaging the people of my village. Talking with the doctor afterwards, I learned that a large portion of the daily health care problems that the local clinic encounters are the result of lack of education in terms of water and sanitation. I am hoping to work with the clinic to hold a series of meetings and trainings and will definitely be integrating health topics into my English curriculum.  Although things are rough, things are also improving. New health centers are being opened, passionate young Mozambicans are awakened and inspired to help their nation move forward, and education is being made a priority all over the country. I am happy and honored to be able to make whatever small contributions I can to what 2013 holds for Mozambique. Much love to you all!!! …and remember, it makes my day to hear from you, so please please let me know how you all are doing wherever you are!