Sunday, July 19, 2015

Wax on, wax off

This post is about my attempt to give myself a bikini wax. If that makes you uncomfortable now's the time to stop reading. You were warned, Dad.

Let's talk about hair removal in the Peace Corps. You can of course adopt the Peace Corps volunteer stereotype and forego it altogether for the au natural look, but if that's not your thing your options are otherwise limited. There aren't any quality razors here, and as every girl who ever went to summer camp knows, shaving without running water only ends in cuts, rashes and pain. Add in the possibility of your razor burn becoming a staff infection that will have to drained by medical staff and it'll all but turn you off of the process. So a lot of girls here in Mozambique turn to waxing. Specifically, they turn to Manuela. Manuela is an angel who works at a salon in the capitol, and while I believe she sadistically enjoys the pain she inflicts, she's also really nice and very good at her job. The problem is she's about 6 hours away from me. Not exactly a day trip, so today I decided to take matters into my own hands. This is the account of my experience, in the hopes of sparing anyone who is considering this a lot of pain.

Well, it worked. And it also HURT. It hurt more than getting waxed by someone else, because instead of staring at the ceiling and not knowing exactly when the pain would come, I had to rip the hair out myself and I was a lot more timid about it than Manuela. The rip the band-aid off metaphor makes sense in theory, but anyone who has had duct tape stuck on them by a sibling can attest that it's much harder than it sounds. Well I kept going through the pain because what else do I have to do with my Sunday afternoon but torture myself? After three excruciating rips, I noticed something had appeared on my inner thigh.

Is that....a...hickey?!

It was. And I'd end up with a grand total of three nasty purple marks before the process was done. I didn't give up though, partly because I've always been a little too stubborn for my own good but mostly because the only thing worse than a terrible home waxing experience is an unsuccessful terrible home waxing experience. After a while I got better at it and at the end of it all I ended up with an only slightly less perfect version of Manuela's Georgia O'Keeffe (yeah, I call it that)...plus the hickies. At least no one can see them.

I don't want to dissuade anyone from the process, because it DID work, but I think a few tips could have literally saved me a few bruises. Also I found that there's less residual pain and stinging afterwards than salon waxes. If you are considering giving yourself a wax, whether you're in the third world or the first, you need to get your mind right. Don't give up if things start to go wrong, because there's nothing worse, or messier, than giving up halfway through! Just keep telling yourself that you are a bada** and if James Bond could survive that seatless chair scene in Casino Royale (the only pain I could imagine that's worse) you can get through this.


Without furthur ado, here are my tips for a bruise-free and relatively mess-free home wax:

1. Make sure no one is home, or that they know what's going on. There could not be a more embarrassing time to walk in on someone, so just tell your roommate to ignore the sounds of agony and to not open the door even if there's a fire. Maybe make a playlist...mine had lots of Blink 182 and DMX. Personally I didn't scream, but judging anyone for it would just be inhuman.

2. Make the wax. This is apparently a very finicky process, and if you don't get the proportions just right you might end up with a liquid mess. I was fortunate enough to get it right the first time, and I'm posting my recipe at the end of this in case anyone wants to go through with it. There are a lot of other similar recipes online, and the basic idea is to make toffee with sugar, water and lemon. Once you get it to the right consistency, you'll want to work quickly because in about half an hour the wax will achieve rock status. Don't fret if it does, you can still pry pieces off and work them with your hands until they soften back up. also the wax dissolves easily with warm water so clean up...or chickening out at the last minute...is simple.

3. Prepare your workspace, and yourself. Baby powder or cornstarch is about as important to this process as the wax! Other than that, you'll need vasoline/aloe/lotion, a mirror, and a towel. Like I said, the wax dissolves, but throwing the towel in the wash is easier than mopping. Also I'd hate to think what it would take to get it out of carpet. Cover the area to be waxed with baby power beforehand and don't be stingy. The baby powder will keep the wax from sticking to your skin. You might want to keep a dish of water handy also just in case you wuss out and need to get it off without ripping.

4. Brace yourself and start ripping. Start with a small ball of wax. It's best to work with an amount that you can easily work between your thumb and first two fingers. After kneading it a bit, mash it onto your skin in the direction of hair growth and then pull your skin as taut as possible while ripping the wax off in the opposite direction you applied it. Try to rip in one or two swift motions and think about pulling back at a 40 degree angle as opposed to 90. Pulling the skin tight is really important to avoid bruising. Also stop frequently to reapply baby powder, especially if your skin starts to feel sticky. You can keep kneading, spreading and ripping with the same ball of wax for a while. If it loses it's stickiness you can toss it and pinch off a new piece. It hardens quickly so you'll have to knead it for a bit after it cools and keep working it with your hands.

5. Don't overdo it. After a few rips you'll get the hang of the motions, but at first you'll be bad at it. So, start at the least sensitive areas up by your pelvic bone. If you don't get all the hairs out with the first rip, move on to another area before repeating to give your skin a break. Try not to repeat too much, and if you do make sure to reapply powder beforehand. Even with a salon wax you're not gonna get all the hairs out. A few will remain because they're too short or they're evil or stubborn or whatever. You'll have to tweeze them, and while this sucks too the upside is your nerves are pretty dulled from the armageddon that just went on down there so you'll probably barely feel it.

6. Clean up. After you're done you'll want to shower cause you'll probably be sticky and you don't want to be attracting ants. Apply vasoline or a heavy lotion to the waxed area immediately afterwards and throughout the next day or two to reduce pain and prevent any rash. As for the wax, I made enough to do my legs too and have extra left over. Apparently the leftovers can be kept in the fridge and reheated for future use but since we have no fridge or microwave mine ended up in the trash pit in my backyard. Any pans and dishes can be easily cleaned up with hot water and soap. Throw the towel in the dirty laundry and you're done! Make sure you make the most of your suffering by wearing plenty of high cut bikinis to the pool for the next month or two.

So there you have it. You don't have to be furry in the Peace Corps, or wherever salons and Venus razors are few and far between. Also total cost was probably around three cents so I saved myself 20 bucks! Definitely worth it, especially in the States where a quality wax is at least twice that. Grooming on a budget, if you've got the (figurative) balls.


THE RECIPE
1 cup sugar
1 scant tbs salt
1 tbs water
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Mix the ingredients in a large saucepan. Heat on the stove until the mixture comes to a boil. Turn the heat down slightly (if possible) and keep stirring. The mixture should be bubbling the whole time. Eventually, after about 3 to 6 minutes it will change color. I used raw sugar so the mixture just turned a darker caramel color than it was, but white sugar will turn brown. After it changes color and just about when it starts to smell like burnt marshmallows take it off of the heat.

Pour the hot mixture onto a plate or pan that you wet (with not a lot of water...just rinse it off) and leave it to cool for about 30 seconds. Start by using a spoon to push the edges of the wax in towards the middle, and continue to play with it with the spoon. After a few minutes it should be cool enough to touch but still hot, as in it won't burn your skin off but you won't wanna hold on to it.

Wet your hands and pinch off a little to knead with your hands. Keep pinching off more and kneading until you've got the whole glob in your hands. I used the other half of the lemon for this, just touching the lemon and pinching off bits to keep it from sticking to me. This worked pretty well and didn't turn the wax into liquid goo.

After 5-10 minutes of kneading the wax will be the consistency of sticky silly puddy, or soft caramel candy. When it reaches this consistency you can begin waxing with it. Mine was kind of granuley, probably due to the raw sugar or maybe I didn't cook it long enough but it still worked just fine. It cools and hardens quickly but should soften back up if you break off a piece and start working it in your hands again. Careful not to add in too much water during the process or it will become too runny to use without strips. Good luck!

Monday, June 22, 2015

A House Divided

This will probably be the one and only "opinion piece" that you get from me in response to the latest terrible thing that has fueled a mob of angry status updates and article repostings. I'm not trying to belittle the Charleston tragedy, but while social media can be a great platform to push for social change, it is more often used as a mask that people use to bait arguments and distance themselves from the consequences of saying hurtful or disrespectful things to others because of anger and other improperly channeled emotions. This is an important conversation and one that I believe needs to be had, but the social media network has become more of a place to yell for the sake of hearing one's own voice than a place to have open-minded discussion. This is one of the reasons I don't normally use my personal social media accounts to weigh in on political or social issues. I don't believe that putting my opinions into words on a digital page amount to as much as my daily actions do, but this time I feel the need to respond, even if only for myself.

I use Facebook as an outlet to the rest of the world and because it's the easiest way to keep up with my friends here and abroad. This week, though, I saw many hateful and ignorant posts from my own friends on both sides of this issue. One of these was a Washington Post article by a journalist who hails from South Carolina, but is apparently carrying around some very large White guilt baggage. While the article isn't completely off point, the author misplaces blame for upholding racism in America on the Southeastern U.S. and all of the White people living there. In his opinion, we as White people should feel responsible for the Charleston shooting and other acts of racism that occur in our society.

Well, I'd be kidding myself if I tried to say that racism doesn't exist in the South. It does, and it is a deeply rooted psycho-social epidemic that springs more from the subconscious than from active hate. The South has always been a society based on class and family ties, and discrimination is still easy to come by not only for Blacks, but for Hispanics, the lower class, blue collar workers, and even the "new money" rich. While I agree that this is a despicable part of our society, I cannot align myself with the author and claim to hate the South. I love the South. I love it because despite our great faults and tumultuous history, we're still a community. When the going gets rough your neighbor will not leave you out in the cold, regardless of race, nationality, income level, or if your moms belong to different sewing circles. We come together rather than turn away from each other in the face of tragedy, when the time comes to show our true colors. This is evident now by the rallies held in support for the shooting victims in Charleston this week. There were no violent riots, hateful picket signs or division of races, but rather a diverse multitude of South Carolina citizens gathering in support of one another and to pray for the souls of the lost. It is also evident of the responses of the victims' families to the shooter himself. These people suffered unspeakable losses, and while the mass media and internet communities yell at one another, they humbly bring their confessions of forgiveness to the young man who wronged them in a way most of us cannot even imagine. While the politicians, fueled by their own incentives, diverted attention to issues like the state flag and gun control, these people embodied Christ and His teachings perfectly as they swallowed the selfish desire for vengeance and begged God for mercy on the very soul that gave them none. But forgiving doesn't mean forgetting. They will never forget what happened to them that day, nor should we. They didn't do it to move on, but to move forward. Forgiveness is probably the most misconstrued, misunderstood, and most difficult of God's commandments, but there is no forward motion or growth without it. By this action it is apparent that these people are truly good people. These are the Southerners I know.

I feel no connection to those who started the White supremacy ideals in America or who uphold them today. They are not my family and they are not my kin. I feel no responsibility for their actions just as I would feel no responsibility for the Holocaust if I were to trace my German roots back to members of the Nazi Party. Shared genetics do not make brothers and sisters. People that perpetuate hate for others are not my people. I feel no connections or loyalties towards them, not only because they are wrong, but because they are so far outside of my sphere of beliefs on morality that shape who I am. How can I feel that these people belong to the same group as me solely because we share a similar shade of skin? In fact, my actual "legal" family is made up of multiple races, nationalities and bloodlines. The people who I consider to be my extended family are even more diverse. I don't divide my family along racial or geographical lines, but instead define them as the people that share with me a love and compassion for others. That's what draws us together in companionship.

I feel no guilt for what has happened in Charleston. I feel disgust, sadness, and disappointment, but not guilt. If I were to feel guilt for the sake of being White, guilty about the privilege that entails, what good would that do? The reason I won't feel guilty about racism in the South, or in America as a whole, is because guilt only results in patronizing and obligatory action. If you truly are going to take responsibility for racism existing in America, it must come from a sense of awareness, from mutual respect, and from a genuine desire to see all people as equals. If there are still division and hate in a society, and if souls are still considered unequal there, then responsibility has yet to be taken. There may be plenty of guilt and even apologetic actions taken, but the lack of responsibility remains.

I can't speak to the struggles of the Black American because I am not one. I have enjoyed and taken for granted the privileges that come from being both White and American for a significant part of my life. I have experienced prejudice and discrimination, though. Most of us probably have in some way or another. It is not a strange concept that any one person is incapable of understanding. I have been singled out and made to feel inferior or unworthy because of my religion and social status. I have been disrespected and held to a double standard because of my gender. I have been targeted and harassed by the police because of my race. I have seen girls sold as child brides and be denied education, opportunity and autonomy. And I know that everywhere in the world right now, people are oppressing and enslaving each other based on race, gender, nationality, tribe, clan, class, sect, political aligning, sexual orientation, age, and religion. This is not something we invented, and it's probably not something we will ever see the end of. But what a chance we have to try, and what strides we have made already. This is a problem that we can address, and it comes from people learning the value of life and the implications of hatred.


Friday, June 5, 2015

Terra de Boa Gente


They say the last six months of your Peace Corps service fly by. I'm not sure who 'they' are but I beg to differ. These next six months are gonna drag by...just like the months between finding out my date to arrive in Mozambique and actually getting here. I've already bought my ticket home and after a day in Berlin I'll be back on American soil by November 22nd! Knowing that no one short of God Himself can keep me here past that day elates me, but then I remember I've still got six months left and that's enough to mellow me out to just above apathy. Here I will hover and try to squeeze in as many adventures as possible and finish up all of my projects before leaving...all the while dreaming of cheeseburgers and pedicures.




So in celebration of the light at the end of the tunnel finally arriving, I'll update you on some things that have been going on around here. A while back I wrote a grant to fund a musical production group called POSITIVO to come Panda to create and record a song about malaria with some of my students. The group travels all over the country with their sound and video equipment to get young people involved in spreading positive messages to their peers and communities through music. A few weeks ago we were able to bring them here and the result was fantastic. The kids
collaboratively wrote a chorus and individually wrote their own verses. They then performed them over a beat that POSITIVO made and it sounds pretty darn cool. The song is in Portuguese, but the basic message is that we can overcome malaria together if we're not neglectful. After recording the music, they filmed a music video and also performed at our school during the morning break, which was awesome and made them all feel like rockstars.







Two weeks ago we had our provincial workshop for REDES, the girl's empowerment organization I work with. At the workshop all the groups and group leaders from across the province got together to talk about everything from income generation techniques to women's health. I brought along the girls in my group and I was so impressed with them. They had no fear about asking questions that would have surely embarrassed me too much to ask at their age. They also knew so much more than I expected them to about sex, HIV, domestic violence, and how to be successful in business ventures. One of them, Tarcia, was reading ahead and taking notes in her workbook, and when I asked her why she replied that she was "cheating" so that nobody could say that Mana Cara didn't teach the girls from Panda enough. I laughed out loud at that, but it also really touched me. I'm very lucky to be a friend to these awesome girls and to help them make good decisions to become independent and successful women in a place where most girls unfortunately will never have that chance. Also during the workshop the tshirts I designed for this year were unveiled! They have our emblem on the front and on the back they say "I AM....Strong, Capable, Beautiful, Active, Intelligent, Determined, Valuable...I AM A GIRL."




This past weekend I went to Bushfire, a music festival in Swaziland. I've never been to any of the big music fests in the States, but it was definitely a great first experience. There were a lot of local performers from Swazi, South Africa, and Moz but there were also some international groups I've never heard of that I immediately hit up on iTunes upon returning home. Aside from great music for 48 straight hours, the food was enough to make me never want to leave. I had a burrito for the first time since coming here, and there were even a bunch of American dudes with a corndog stand, complete with a lifesized cardboard cutout of Obama holding a corndog. I don't even like corndogs that much, but I definitely ate a few of those for old times sake. Not all new experiences are good, though. I woke up Saturday morning to find 1,000 people in line for about 6 private showers. The other option was the communal outdoor shower, or a partially tarped off area where you can take a freezing cold shower in the mud with a bunch of strangers while even more strangers and random workers on tractors pass by the exposed side. So, since my pride and patience have both been worn pretty thin so far by living the Peace Corps life, I said to hell with it and stripped down. If there was any argument left for how "hippie" I've become, that probably sealed the deal.

On my way back home from the festival, I relied on the kindness of strangers to get me back to Panda. On the final leg of my travel, the driver said upon entering Inhambane Province, "Terra de Boa Gente!" That's our province's slogan, kind of like the "City of Brotherly Love" or "Georgia on My Mind," and it means Land of Good People. It's true. The people I live with are my family. My neighbors, my colleagues, the guy at the post office, strangers on the street...they will all go out of their way to help you out as if they've known you forever. Good people with big hearts that show compassion and generosity towards others...that's what I'll miss most about this place. But I've still got six months to enjoy it! Not to mention projects to manage, lessons to plan, and reports to file, and yeah I'm gonna go ahead and stop procrastinating now. Ate ja!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Malaria's a Buzzkill


We Sub-Saharan-African PCV's are all gearing up for World Malaria Day this month (April 25th) by making an extra effort to educate our communities here and back home about the illness and what can be done to prevent it. You may already know a bit about Malaria, but I'll bet if you keep reading (and you don't work for WHO) you'll still learn a thing or two!

So, what is Malaria?

Malaria is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium. 



Plasmodium, as a baby, enters the bloodstream and travels to the liver, where it matures and makes more Plasmodiums. After a few days, the mature parasites leave the liver and get to work infecting blood cells.




Plasmodium is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes.
The breed of mosquito that carries the Malaria parasites (yeah, there are different breeds) exists primarily in Africa. It doesn't exist in North America anymore because of insecticide-spraying measures taken by the US in the late 1940's. I can only imagine what the all-natural-all-organic-completely-against-chemicals-even-though-they-also-exist-in-nature folks would have done to keep the disease alive had they been around back then (looking at you, California).

Anyway, when the female mosquitoes get pregnant, they crave blood because they need it to carry out egg production. You know how pregnant ladies are when they get cravings....

So when one of these hangry mommas bites you, you're left with not only an annoyingly itchy bite, but also a lovely batch of parasites waiting to take over your body.

What happens when you have Malaria?

Usually Malaria symptoms are similar to those of the flu: fever, chills, nausea, and all around feeling like you've been hit by a train. In rare cases, or when left untreated,  Malaria can cause seizures, brain damage, spleen rupture, severe anemia, kidney failure, respiratory distress, and death. Pregnant women are especially at risk for Malaria complications and contracting it can result in premature delivery or birth of an underweight baby, as well as stillbirth and miscarriage.

Why should I care about Malaria?

Here are some not-so-fun facts about the illness:
  • Every year, half of the world's entire population is at risk for contracting Malaria (about 3.2 billion people)
  • Each year about 200 million people contract the disease and almost 600 million people die from it.
  • Every 60 seconds, a child dies of Malaria.
  • 90% of all Malaria deaths occur in Africa, most of them children under 5.
  • In Mozambique alone, about 30% of all deaths are Malaria related, and about 14,000 children die of the disease each year.
  • Parasite resistance to anti-malarial drugs has already emerged and is a serious concern, mostly caused by stopping treatment as soon as the person feels better.
  • Malaria targets the poor: Since insecticide treatments, bed nets and even treatment are very expensive, most of the people affected by Malaria cannot afford to treat it or protect themselves from it. Not to mention that when working adults get sick they lose valuable income and ultimately hurt the fragile economy of the affected countries.

Is there any good news?

I spent a lot of time looking at statistics, trying to find a positive correlation between reported Malaria cases and things like education rates, HDI, per capita GDP, international aid, and infrastructure. No matter what I put it up against, though, Malaria just kept steadily rising regardless of other fluctuations. It's an outlier. But how does that make sense? Surely with education and funding Malaria rates should go down. 

Part of the reason behind this is that better infrastructure and more development in the health sector goes hand in hand with better reporting of diseases. Another reason could be due to over-reporting. Unfortunately, this happens in malarious countries because the rate of malaria is so high and the clinics are too underequipped/underfunded to keep up with blood tests for all of the malaria-suspect patients that come through the door each day.  Instead, they just send patients with flu-like symptoms home with a scrip for anti-malarial drugs and those that have access to them and can afford them then contribute to the parasite drug-resistance problem by taking them unnecessarily.

There is good news, though. What we know for sure is that Malaria mortality rates have fallen by over half in sub-Saharan Africa, and 47% worldwide in the last decade. That's serious progress! Early diagnosis and treatment is essential to preventing Malaria deaths and also for reducing transmission rates, but the serious work is being done on the prevention side with bed nets, insecticide treatments and education

The best news, though? You can help.

Great, I'll go change my facebook profile pic right now!

Hold on a sec. While I admire your initiative in raising awareness, how about considering something that will directly impact the problem? Yep, that requires money/time/sacrifice, but you can feel good about the fact that you are directly contributing to the eradication of Malaria! There are lots of ways to help out. You could:
  • Buy a mosquito bed net for just $10 to protect someone from Malaria. Forego Starbucks three times this month and you can give someone here in Africa a safe place to sleep tonight. Donate to the UN campaign Nothing But Nets here.
  • Host a basketball game fundraiser for Nothing But Nets. If you're a teacher, rec league coach, or you've got kids in school, you can make this season count by hosting a game and providing mosquito nets to people in Africa. Make it extra interesting with a teachers vs. students game! Sign up to host a game here.
  • Give what you can to Malaria No More, and each dollar you spend will provide one child or pregnant mother with testing and treatment for Malaria. Donate to Malaria No More here.
  • Download the Best Fiends game on your phone or tablet and let Edward the mosquito teach you about Malaria through a series of puzzles! Get the app for iPhone/iPad on the app store here, or for all other devices on Google Play here.
  • Donate to Peace Corp's Stomp Out Malaria campaign, and fund projects that PCVs like me are doing in their communities to educate, prevent and eradicate Malaria! Give to Stomp Out Malaria here.
  • Write a letter to your member of Congress to let them know you care about funding for Malaria. Right now it's going to take an estimated 3.6 billion dollars to eradicate Malaria worldwide, but every dollar of aid counts in helping individuals. In the coming months Congress will decide how much aid the US will contribute. You can write your own letter/email, or you can use the online template here.

Done! Now what?

Help get the word out! Now's the time to change that profile pic, post a link, start a fundraiser of your own, bring up the cause at your next meeting, or just bring it up in conversation with your friends and colleagues. 

Malaria sucks, just like every other deadly disease. As with all preventable diseases, we have a responsibility to do whatever we can to eradicate it for the sake of humanity. But with this particular disease, we (the First World) have put off committing to a worldwide eradication campaign, and now it's out of control. It will be harder and more expensive now because we waited, but we deserve that. We deserve it not only because it's our fault, but because the reason we've waited so long is that the people it affects are the Third World. It's easy to forget about them and hard to pay attention. It's really easy to say it's not our place or our mess or our fault, but that's not true. However you look at it, they are human as much as we are and if you take away this sense of "we" and "them" that we have you'll see that they deserve what everyone deserves: respect, health, and a right to pursue happiness. 

"Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need." 2 Corinthians 8:13-14

You don't have to be a Christian to believe in this. Call it Karma or being a good person or keeping the universe in balance or whatever you want...it's the same concept: equality. If it were America battling an illness that we couldn't afford to combat (as it very well may be someday) I'd want the countries and corporations and individuals that could afford to pay for it to give whatever it costs to save us.

So let's not put it off any longer; let's do it, not because of foreign or political interests and not because of what we might get in return, but because it's the right thing to do.



*Malaria facts and statistics obtained from WHO, CDC, the UN, Gapminder, and Malaria No More.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

10 Things I Took For Granted: A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Living Without Luxury


Don't be fooled by the title of this post, it's not complicated and it's not about economics...a word I personally can't even say without yawning. First of all, I'm not going to apologize for the infrequency of my posts anymore because a) I'm busy, and b) I'm tired of doing it every single time I post something. Just remember that you get what you pay for, and this endearingly amateur prose I provide is free.

It's funny I should bring up the mantra "you get what you pay for," because it fits right into the theme of this post. Recently I started a unit on Excel and small business ventures for my 12th grade ICT class with the intention of squeezing some knowledge of income generation principles in with all the formula confusion. I got the idea to have them do a cost-benefit analysis of two small businesses in their community, and then while researching cost-benefit analyses I became slightly obsessed with them. I started to cost-benefit analyze all of my actions, like getting up at 9:00 AM vs. 8, studying for the GRE vs. binge-watching House of Cards, and walking to the market vs. just eating tuna again for dinner.

So here I'd like to do a cost-benefit analysis of living poor vs. having all of the luxuries I took for granted in the States. You may be thinking, "Woah...poor? That's not a very PC term. Wouldn't "simply" or "within modest means" be prettier?" Nope. I'm poor. Just to prove it to you, I will reveal that I live on $200 a month. This has to cover food, water, electricity, travel, internet/phone credit, my maid (yes, she's an essential living expense), and any misc. expenses for the month. Just to make that hit home, that's less than a quarter of what I'd be receiving on welfare, and 21% below the US poverty threshold for a single person. Even so, I'm pretty well off compared to most of the family households in my community.

Now that we've established how poor I am, here's the list of the top things I now realize I took for granted living in the US,  how living without them has affected me and how I believe they affect societies in general.

*Note: These are ranked by how much I took them for granted (i.e. how quickly I would decide to give up my right arm to have them at this moment in time), not by their impact on society.

10. Diversity

This one ranks low on my list because being the only white person around sometimes has its perks here, like getting the front seat in a chapa that's usually reserved for men, or claiming ignorance of cultural norms/school policies when I really just don't want to follow them. I don't want to downplay how alienating it is, though. Being stared at everywhere you go, being catcalled in broken english and constantly disrespected, being distrusted or discredited at work, and being held to a different standard than the rest of your colleagues is exhausting and frustrating. Not only that, but the amount of times someone has asked in disbelief, "You have black people in America?" baffles me.

I think being exposed to such a wide variety of people is something all Americans take for granted to some degree. Speaking generally, people of the same race, religion, and background tend to stick together. This makes sense because we tend to pick our friends based on common interest, but there is such a beneficial affect on our psyche when we surround ourselves with different kinds of people. If you want racism, sexism, and other discriminations to dissipate, the best thing you can do as an individual is to befriend people who are different than you. That's when you really start to accept, on a conscious and an intuitive level, that we're all human beings deserving respect, and that's when you'll start to make decisions based on that respect.

9. Reliable Government/Democracy

Again, really important on a society level...but not affecting me so much as the lack of delicious ready-to-eat fried chicken. All jokes aside, having the security of the US government is something I seriously took for granted. We can complain about its problems and corruption, and we can even be justified in our complaints, but we've got a better system in place than 90% of the World and we're constantly working to make it better. I take comfort in knowing that vaccines, antibiotics and antiviral drugs are always available, that emergency medical care will be given to me regardless of my ability to pay, that if things get really bad and I can't afford to feed myself I can apply for aid, and that if I get kidnapped by Somalian pirates my government will move hell and high water to get me back safely.

Real democracy, a vote that counts, and an opportunity to be a part of the change in my government is something I will never complain about, because the alternative is seriously bleak. The blind sheep mentality is detrimental to the mindset of a country's people and, in my opinion, directly affects its efficiency and success as a whole.

8. Air Conditioning

Big switch here, but if your air has ever gone out in the dead of summer while the repairman is on vacation you know what I'm talking about. Except, you don't. Sorry friends and loved ones but when you compare the heat of the Southeastern US with this heat in Southeastern Africa it's the biggest understatement you could possibly make. The sun is literally closer to me. This means that not only is it hotter but the sun's rays are more intense, resulting in what feels like an oven set to 300F on a cloudless day. Add in the humidity of being on the coast and it's kin to that oven and the sauna in your gym combined. I can't even use the expression "sweating like a whore in church" because if that whore was sweating like I am I have no doubts that she would promptly be kicked out of church, or maybe be taken to the hospital.

How does AC affect society? I'm convinced it makes us more efficient and happier in general. The Mozambican workday in the summer is slow and there are lots of breaks because it's way to hot to sit inside. Also it's too hot to eat or sleep at night so everyone just stays in this daze of weakness and lack of motivation to do anything except nap. AC keeps us moving quicker, working longer, and sleeping better. Can't argue with a blessing like that.

7. 9-1-1

I had a dream a couple of nights ago that one of my students came into my house and refused to leave. So, essentially a nightmare. One of my threats to coerce him into leaving was to call the police to come remove him. I picked up my phone and started to dial 911 and then I realized that number means nothing here.

Don't get me wrong, there are police here in my village. If I needed them I'd just have to walk down the road to the station and get one. In bigger cities there's a definite police presence in the streets at all hours to enforce the law (and harass foreigners). I'm sure there's also a station number to call in the cities as well. One of the things I like about my village is the fact that I don't feel the need to have constant contact with the police to feel safe. I think it says a lot about the communal sense of security that exists in rural Mozambique. 911 is about more than just police, though. It's about the fact that when you're in danger of dying, you have an escape plan.

If I'm in a tight spot, it would take Peace Corps approximately 14 hours, best case scenario, to get me to the capitol. Add another 4-10 hours if it's something like emergency surgery that would need to happen in South Africa. This doesn't worry me too much because there aren't that many things that will kill you in under 24 hours but not instantly. What would worry me is if I were a national, and I had no real hope of immediate help in an emergency. The impact as far as I can tell is that people rely more on each other than they do the police, and they take precautions into their own hands when needed. Walk through any city in the developing world and this is evident by the fortress-style iron grating, electric fences, and broken glass/barbed wire used to protect residences and businesses. Of course, we've got our alarm systems and deadbolts, but there isn't a constant need to worry about being the victim of a crime in your own home when the authorities are about 10 minutes, not 4 hours, away.

6. Libraries

The availability of information is invaluable to me as a scientist. Libraries are free sources of information that have unfortunately lost popularity with the growth of the internet. You can still use the internet for free at the library, though. Free information for all! It's such an amazing concept. Every time I want to assign a research project to my students I have to print out articles for them to use, and every weekend flocks of children gather to look at our small collection of children's books. There is no building with free access to books, dictionaries, atlases, newspapers, computers, and internet. It just doesn't exist.

Obvious impacts are literacy rates and education quality, but I also think taking away that hub of credible information causes a dangerous shift. When your only source of information comes from the internet, television, and gossip, critical thinking and careful research go out the window (or never come into the picture in the first place). People stop questioning what they hear and more readily accept it to be true.

This may just be an inevitable trait of humanity though, given the measles outbreak in the Land of Information because people started believing vaccines are more dangerous than infectious disease epidemics. Hey, easy fix: lock everyone in a library who believes Facebook articles and/or celebrities are credible sources until they see the light and/or all succumb to rubella.

5. 24/7

This encompasses everything convenient about America, and our passion for making the most of our time. In Mozambique things are not so. The lunch break starts at noon and ends at 2:30 (or so). Things close promptly at 6 on weekdays and noon on Saturday, and good luck finding anything open on Sunday. This is not to say that you couldn't walk a mile to pay your electricity bill only to find that the sole employee of the energy company is inexplicably not there at 9:30 AM on a Tuesday. Life here is, in a word, inconvenient.

Astonishingly, people just accept the inconvenience of life for what it is, mostly because they've never known anything different. I, however, have an extremely hard time accepting the inconveniences and usually end up taking it out on the unsuspecting postal worker, waitress, or aforementioned energy company employee. Life is slower here, and that means less efficiency and productivity. But it also means less stress and frustration, with an ability to let things go that are out of your control. This I can admire, because I lack the ability to not try to control everything.

I often make fun of how slowly Mozambicans walk, dubbing it the "Mozambican Mosey." If I think about it, though, it accurately reflects the lifestyle here. For us in America, life is all about the destination. We live our lives constantly thinking about the future, preparing for what's next. Mozambicans live in the present. They're mind is on the moment they're in, so there's no rush to get to the next one. The journey is as important as the destination, so why hurry?

4. Wifi

OK, so it's not so hard living without wifi, but I lump this in with reliable cell service, internet, and all the things that instantly connect us to other people. Being connected to anyone with the press of the send button meant constant communication and no interruptions in social connections or productivity.

Now, conversations with friends and family are much more infrequent, and there's really no good way to keep up with everyone I used to talk to regularly. I just find out they're engaged or pregnant or moving to China whenever I log onto Facebook. Even contact within country is spotty and sometimes my village goes days without cell phone service, sans viable explanation.

I will say that each conversation I do have is more meaningful, partly because we have substantial things to talk about and partly because there's no such thing as unlimited pre-paid phone credit, so minutes are meticais! Arguments can be made that not having internet access is a blessing, but I maintain that despite the positives of being off the grid, it is still overall a curse. Not to mention, the "days since this iPhone has been backed up" notification is driving me insane, like tally marks on my prison cell wall.

3. Transportation

Safe, reliable transportation makes life less stressful, and less dangerous. First of all, having (enforced) safety regulations on all vehicles before allowing them registration is somewhat of an obvious yet overlooked measure in the developing world. I mean, you can charge money for these inspections, make it a profitable endeavor, and ensure the safety of your citizens. But noooooo, because then the colorful culture of cramming 40 people into a barely road-worthy pickup with secondhand tires and a transmission welded together in the market by some guy named "Rasta" would die. Can't be having that.

I want to say I took for granted having my own car, but I think I really took for granted having my own personal space in a car...or train or bus or boat. Also, the fixed scheduled departures and arrivals, coupled with the convenience of everyone else you know having a car, even if you don't (see number 5). The result? You always get to work on time, right?

Nope...just traffic. But at least there's AC! ;)

3. Prepared Meals

I couldn't decide whether to put fast food, restaurants, or just American food in general, so I decided on meals prepared by someone else other than myself. This is an important distinction because, while I firmly believe food from any other country just isn't as good as the American variety, I have had good food here. Just last night I made the best black bean enchiladas with homemade sauce. They were delicious, but they took me hours to make and they would have been just as delicious coming from a Mexican restaurant where someone spent hours making them for me.

The main point here is that meals are ready and available everywhere back home, and here they take hours to prepare. There's no sandwich meat or microwaves, and even salad veggies have to be bleached first. The result is spending most of your day planning and preparing meals, or visiting neighbors around mealtimes until one of them invites you to eat with them. The most serious problem arises on Sunday, when you're travelling home from a long weekend, tired, hungry, and nothing is open. Or worse, around 1 AM when you get the munchies and there's no taco bell or 24-hour Kroger.

I mark a country's development index with the availability of late night snacks.

2. Water

Do I mean indoor plumbing? No, I mean water. As in reliable access to clean drinking water. Not having to carry water for miles (or yards, even) to your house in a bucket. Having running water to wash your hands with. Irrigation systems for agriculture. Slip n slides and swimming pools!

What happens when you don't have it? Well, you carry enough water to your house to drink and bathe and cook with every few days. You praise the heavens and set out every bucket you own whenever it rains. You boil your drinking water even when it's 100 degrees outside. You might occasionally get cholera or giardia. You might have to wash your clothes in the river during a drought. Bottom line: you appreciate it, and you don't waste it.

I can bathe in 3 liters of water. I can wash my hair and body and shave with less than the liquid content of two bottles of coke. I do it every day here. I think clean, drinkable running water is a huge health advantage, but I think always having access to it has led us to waste it.  Every drop of water is precious when you have to carry 25 liters of it from a spicket 75 yards away, and even more precious when your water pumps are hooked up to the extremely spotty energy grid and you sometimes forego bathing for days until the energy comes back on because you have nowhere near the upper body strength to carry water uphill from the river 5 miles away. Which brings me to........

1. Electricity...!

Sofie's choice for every peace corps volunteer is choosing what sucks worse: living without running water or without electricity. Well, I don't have running water and I lived without electricity for 8 months, so I feel qualified to tell you that electricity is far more convenient than running water. It's one of those things upon which you don't realize how much you rely until you don't have it. Without electricity, a short list of things that become infinitely harder and/or impossible are: breakfast (I need coffee before I can light the coal stove, but I need to light the stove to make coffee!), pretty much all other meals, using the telephone, using the computer, sleeping (without a fan), keeping leftovers, purchasing meat, fish, or dairy, and any activities after 8 PM.

I will admit that having it has made me soft: I was sort of used to it when we didn't have it, but now, when it goes out, I become furious and would rather suffer in the dark than get out the cookstove and light the oil lamps. Just this morning I started WWIII with the neighbors because they forgot to pay the energy bill and I had to sleep without a fan. Being able to admit this makes me no more reliant on it, though. I know I can live without it, I just don't have to...and I don't want to.


So there you have it. That's my list. If you were wondering how the other half (of the world) lives, now you know. It's important to say that it's not a bad life, just a different one. There's not a thing on this list that has made me unhappy or unhealthy by giving it up. In fact, if I were to analyze what happens to society in general when you strip away luxury and convenience, I would say they become more resourceful. Humans have an incredible knack for adapting...we've been doing it for a long time. Mozambicans amaze me with this quality and I have definitely noticed an increase in my own capacity to make things work with limited resources. So enjoy your luxuries, and be thankful for them, but know that you can live without them. They don't define our happiness or our ability to be productive and successful human beings.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Three Cheers For The New Year

Our long summer break has ended and my second year of teaching is about to begin. I can't say I'm not depressed about this vacation coming to an end but it has definitely been a crazy adventure. I began my travel with a trip up to central Moz to Chimoio in the province of Manica. Prior to November this trip wouldn't have been allowed due to the ban on overland travel through the province of Sofala. Since my arrival here there have been attacks on the main road there and the only way to pass through was in a military caravan. Thankfully peace accords have been signed by the leaders of the two major political entities (FRELIMO and RENAMO) here and attacks have since ceased. This also meant that I got to spend Christmas with volunteers and friends from the north and central parts of the country whom I normally never see. The trip is about ten hours usually but I made it in eight with a nice ride from a CDC worker and his friend who's apparently built the road that goes through Panda. On the way we saw aftermath from some of the attacks that happened, including a burned down trailer and bus and a bridge destroyed by explosives. After arriving I spent some time at my friend Thelma's house in Vanduzi, a mountain village about 40 minutes outside of the city. Her site is home to the farms of a big fruit company here, so she can get fruit like grapes, plums, peaches and apples (fruit that is normally exported from South Africa and very expensive) for cheap. We headed to the city for Christmas Eve and cooked a dinner of lasagna, mac and cheese, pigs in a blanket, hummus, pita chips, glazed carrots, and plenty of dessert and sangria. Volunteers came from all over the north and central regions to celebrate together and we definitely had a great time.



After our celebration Thelma, Matt (another PCV) and I began our long trek to Cape Town. We had great travel luck and made it to Maputo, the capitol city, in one day. The next morning we hopped on a bus that took us to Johannesburg where I met my best friend Sarah who came all the way from Georgia to hang out in South Africa with me. After a night in Joberg spent catching up we all boarded a plane for Cape Town on New Year's Eve. I can honestly say this was the best NYE I've ever had. We crashed a yacht party, watched fireworks for the first time in a year, and watched the sun come up. Cape Town I always a blast and we definitely took advantage…plus when Sarah and I are together we always have a blast. It was the highlight of my year getting to spend an entire week with her.

 The rest of the week was spent mostly relaxing on the beach, eating delicious food and generally enjoying the beautiful land of beautiful people. We also played with spider monkeys, hiked to the Cape of Good Hope where a baboon stole my Camelback, and I finally got to dive with Great Whites! The shark diving was the most exciting thing I've ever done in my whole life. We went out on this two deck fishing boat into one of the harshest tides in the world. We hadn't been out there but five minutes when the first person started to look a little green. Our guide was standing there saying it could be hours before we see a shark, and before he finished his warning of the possibility of not seeing a shark at all the skipper yells out "shark in the water!" I looked over and saw a dorsal fin and then a set of jaws come up for the tuna head bait in the water by the cage. I snapped a picture and ran down the ladder to pull on my wetsuit so I could get into the cage first. I made it in first along with three other people and we watched the shark thrash and breach around us as they teased him with the bait up top. It was awesome. We had about 15 sightings in all, the largest about 5 meters, and I got two hours of cage time since about half of our group was hanging over the edge too sick to even think about the Nat Geo grade fun the boat veterans were having on the other side of the boat. Never have I loved my iron stomach more.

When we headed back to Moz we had about ten days before our midservice conference, but Thelma and I decided it made no sense to go back just to turn around and come back so we set out on another adventure. We visited some friends in Gaza province and slowly made our way up to Vilanculos where we spent my birthday on the beach. My friend Lisa was house sitting in a house right on the beach there, and some other PCV's came out to celebrate with us. It was the perfect end to our vacation and from there we headed once again down to Maputo for our conference. While the actual conference was tedious as conferences go, it was the first time my group was all together since we left training for our respective sites. Needless to say it was a great time. By the end though, even though I didn't want to leave the air conditioning and delicious food, I was ready to get back home to my own bed.


Yesterday I arrived from a solid month of travel and adventures to find my house completely taken back by nature. The spiders and roaches are much more abundant and much less shy than before I left and there is a solid layer of dirt and sand covering every surface. Our yard looked like a desert last month but there must have been an obscene amount of rain because it now looks like a jungle of weeds and I need a machete to Indiana Jones my way to the latrine. It's not all bad though because in addition to the weeds our okra and pumpkin plants are crazy big….the pumpkin vine even has two decently sized gourds growing on it! Must be that fertility is in the air because I also returned to find Lua extremely pregnant. I expect our house to be filled with puppies in about a month, which I can't decide if I'm excited for or dreading. Vamos ver! One of the things I realized at the conference is that I'm ready for whatever this next year throws at me. It's been a long year filled with ups and downs, some very extreme, but it's gonna be an adventure this time around. I'm already feeling like my time in paradise is slipping away too quickly so I've got to take advantage of the rest!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Campaign-in-the-butt

With the presidential campaign wrapping up here, midterms happening Stateside and finally copping season 2 of House of Cards, I've had politics on the brain lately. I don't normally talk about politics, partially because I was taught that it is impolite dinner conversation and partially because it annoys me a lot. Nevertheless I thought it would be interesting to compare American politics with those here in Mozambique.

Moz is a pretty new democracy coming from failed "one party democracy" (whatever that means) and socialist leaderships following liberation from colonialism. The political party system is massively complicated , facing corruption seeded since the war and influence from so many foreign interest agendas that no one knows who to trust anymore. What Mozambique has is the right to vote, a fact worth celebrating in itself. Despite being a democracy, though, the country is still riddled with socialist gray areas, like the presidential portraits hung high in every school,  shop and restaurant...Big Brother always watching.

Here in the south the majority by far is FRELIMO--the liberating party from the war-- and mum's the word about the other two major parties. The south is more developed, being closer to the capitol, but things get more complicated the farther north you go. As you head up, paved roads turn to gravel and then dirt. The income gap gets wider and development in general decreases. These people have more cause for complaint against the current regime, and thus are more likely to lean towards the RENAMO or MDM parties. This is also where political tensions rise, as in the case of RENAMO attacking civilian and military vehicle convoys in the province of Sofala. Thankfully these have since stopped despite yet another FRELIMO win and peace accords between the party leaders have been signed.

Elections were relatively peaceful here. They remind me of the elections for Miss Homecoming in college: full of gimmicks and based largely around how many campaign parties they can throw in the streets. Lots of our classes were cancelled here in Panda because professors were busy campaigning. All of our desks and some of our classrooms were commandeered for campaign use, so for two weeks we taught under the mango tree. These instances are common but mild. At a school farther north a student was given the ultimatum of donning a party Tshirt or not being allowed to study that day. She refused and went home. Some of our friends and colleagues participate in the majority party campaign even though they disagree with their policies. They do this because if they come out openly as in favor of another party they will be fired or refused employment. Things like this make it hard for me to appreciate how far the country has come because there is still so far to go. I sit on no high horse though because American politics strikes a similar chord with party loyalty to a fault. People of both nationalities act as if their political affiliation is akin to a sports team. They sing and dance, wear the swag and trash talk like it's all a game. They blindly follow their team with die-hard loyalty, checking the vote-party box on ballots, making excuses for just about anything and always blaming the other team when things go wrong. These affiliations come from parents or friends or even habit.

I'm a Republican. Being a Republican in the Peace Corps is like being a zebra in a pack of thoroughbred horses. As minority as I might be, though, I've had some productive and intelligent political conversations with my colleagues. We can speak objectively and open-mindedly...the only way to approach the issue of government in my opinion and I feel that my generation is doing better at that. Even so, I've gotten used to being a political outcast among my peers. Growing up in the South, it's easy to inherit the Republican fandom, and while I register on the same side I don't often agree. I'm a Republican because I believe in the free market, in conservative spending and in limited government. I don't believe in forcing any moral agenda through government policy. I believe in human rights and in free will, so I don't believe that it's fair to deny same-sex marriage licenses or that doing so makes our nation more moral. I'm a Christian, but I believe in the separation of church and state because I believe forcing adherence to any religion defeats its purpose entirely. Unfortunately this makes me the minority member of the GOP.

I can deal with being in the minority or even being the only person with my beliefs. What really baffles me is the important research people forego before heading to the polls, as if they identify with nothing outside of "red" or "blue." They want Hillary because she's a woman, Barack because he's not white, or George because he's a Christian. Voting history and domestic policy loses over the hot-button issues during the debate and who shakes more hands on the trail; or in the case here who has more Tshirts and better music. In both cases we end up with the dangerously uninformed and dangerously loyal majority controlling the polls. The only way the system works is with checks and balances, and the only way to keep those in place is to keep an open mind and make an informed decision based on facts and not feelings. This political can't-sway-me fandom has led to pretty terrible things in past societies. For further reading, see the rise of Hitler in Germany or the beginnings of Communism in Russia.