Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Mulungu Zoo

Hello from Panda!

After an exciting last week in Namaacha with plenty of parties and 4 glorious days in the capitol for the swearing in ceremony and supervisor's conference (complete with HOT SHOWERS), I am now an official bona-fide, sworn-in Peace Corps Volunteer!

Our beloved festive bull skull!
We arrived at site on Friday afternoon after a 6 hour chapa ride. Panda is a super small, sandy village about two hours away from the coast. It reminds me of a little beach town...without the beach. Our house is a 3-room concrete house with attached bath house and storage area. We have a latrine which the previous volunteer took upon himself to splatter-paint pastel shades of the rainbow. Don't ask me why but we do have the most festive latrine in Mozambique...and heck probably all of Africa.

The school where we work is pretty much in our front yard. I'm already having visions of rolling out of bed 5 minutes before class starts. Our house is one in a row of other concrete and reed houses occupied by other professors and their families. The upside to this is that we have a very safe environment and people are always at our house, from the neighbor's girls playing jenga in our living room and swinging on our porch to our colleagues coming over to make sure we have everything we need. The downside to this is, well, people are always at our house.

Our front porch, complete with swing and pull up bar!
This morning, for example, I was awoken by one of the little girls peering into my bedroom window and yelling my name. That horror-film-worthy alarm brought me as close as I've come to wetting the bed in 15 years. Later today as I started on the hopelessly large pile of laundry I've been putting off, two of our fellow teachers walked over. One, whom I am afraid of because she speaks so bluntly and has a bad case of angry-face, exclaimed in surprise that I was washing my clothes.
-Yes, I am washing my clothes.
-You know how to wash clothes?!?
-Of course.
-You know how to wash clothes like this?? (makes scrubbing motions with her hands)
-Huh! Well where are you going to dry them? (now she's quizzing me)
-...On the clothes line out back.
Then they proceeded to watch me wash clothes for five minutes in silence before they left. Ten minutes later I had the same experience with one of my students.

My room
We're the Mulungu Zoo! Mulungus (which is Xitswa for white people) are inherently fascinating to Mozambicans and here we are doing all these fascinating things like laundry and cooking and reading...who could blame them for stopping by to sneak a peek? Part of this is also that routine daily tasks that we consider errands are much more social activities here. In the States we try to get things like shopping, cooking and cleaning done as quickly and efficiently as possible to make more time for the fun activities with our friends like eating, going to the movies, etc. But here, the chores and errands are the social activities. A trip to the market could take over an hour even though it's only a five minute walk because you have to take time to stop and talk to everyone there.

Yesterday I was feeling pretty sick--just tired and achy and all I wanted was to lay down. The previous day we had completed our obligatory introductions to our colleagues and community leaders, so I was surprised when the school director summoned us over to the school that morning. My roommate Emma and I walked over expecting to discuss class schedules or more awkward introductions but Senhor Director simply announced that the daily snack was ready. I tried my best to hide the you-seriously-just-got-me-out-of-bed-to-eat-an-egg-sandwich expression but my face has a knack for displaying my true feelings. My escape efforts after snacktime were also futile. The aforementioned colleague who strikes fear in my heart with her stink-eye caught whiff of our idea to return home. "No," she said before we even got up. "Sit and converse with us." Well, how could I argue with a direct order from Maleficent herself? So we sat there learning Xitswa words, teaching English words, and of course explaining why we don't have husbands or boyfriends or both.

All humor aside, I really do love Panda and our community here. Everyone is so unbelievably friendly and eager to help in any way they possibly can. These people would probably give me the shirt off their back and they've only just met me. That's the kind of community I was hoping for and I am so grateful to be here. I can't wait to spend the next two years in my new home!

Living Room

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

House-Arrested Development

Provincial elections are today and as a result all of us are on lockdown for the day. So since I’m stuck in the house faced with laundry and lesson planning I thought it would be a great time to write about site placements.

Last week was the most stressed I’ve been since I arrived in Africa. After arriving from site visits we all had a long weekend of relaxation to look forward to with ample time to wash the pile of dirty clothes we accrued over the week--OH WAIT, I was thinking about an alternate universe where I have enough hours in the day. Let me start over.

After arriving from site visits we all had a long day of classes and then an entire weekend of permagardening to look forward to. What’s permagardening you ask? Well, I couldn’t tell you because I was so tired and hot and over it Saturday morning that I hardly paid attention. It has something to do with sustainable vegetable gardening and composting. Probably useful information but half of my group spent our time deliriously doing ridiculous activities like fruit ninja with real fruit and machetes, mango baseball and chasing chickens. Let me just say that real life fruit ninja is much more fun than the app.

The following week we were all supposed to be planning to teach model school (basically kids are bribed with food to come be our guinea pig students for a week), but with site announcements on Thursday everyone was on edge. My week went about like this:

 Lesson plan. Panic. Lesson Planning and panicking. Try to think of ways to make genetics fun. Realize that’s pretty much impossible. More panicking. Get sick. Puke for 8 hours on the hour. Spend the day dying in bed in a concrete house that’s kin to an oven in the African sun. Recover and lesson plan some more…also more panicking because site announcements are tomorrow!

When the day finally came to find out where I’ll be living for the next two years, we had our long day of core classes and they of course waited til the very end to hand out our site packets. We all lined up on the sidelines of the basketball courts outside of the school. On the court was drawn in chalk a giant map of Mozambique and all of its provinces. They handed us our envelopes and we all stood there like kids on Christmas Eve waiting to open them.
And the verdict is………

PANDA! In Inhambane province in the south, which is affectionately dubbed the Peace Corps Playground because of how close all of the volunteers are placed together. I am actually really close to a lot of great people, and I have a roommate and a site mate so I’m very happy with my assignment. I am teaching technology, which is not what I expected to be teaching or feel prepared for at all but in the Peace Corps there’s no way to know what you’re actually going to be doing until you’ve already done it. Also, I had a long conversation with one of the volunteers I’m replacing and he says that technology teachers are seriously needed in Panda so I’m happy for that. Also they apparently have a state of the art computer lab that was recently donated to the school so I’ll actually have computers to teach with, which is a serious advantage and a rarity here.

Some other things about my site: it’s kind of in the matu (bush, middle of nowhere, etc.) but only an hour and a half away from 2 beautiful beaches and an hour away from a large city where I can get things I can’t find in the markets. My house has electricity and is in a neighborhood with all of the other teachers at the secondary school. We have a latrine and a yard and I fully intend on having a dog, a chicken coop and a pig that I will fatten up over the next two years and have as barbeque at the end of my service. It’s also apparently very safe and the community is very welcoming. Overall I can’t wait to be there and settle in to my new home!

That’s all for now, I’m going to continue demolishing a bag of Jelly Belly’s that my family sent to me in a care package with two of my friends.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Two Words: Chicken Burrito

Site visits were this week, and it has been a cluster of events and emotions. Everyone going north of central Moz got to stay overnight in Maputo in a hotel that would probably have not met my standards a month and a half ago but now seems luxurious…mainly because of the HOT SHOWERS! Staying in the capitol has other perks too, like pizza and burritos and gelato and crunchy peanut butter and cheese and wine and the best coffee milkshake you can find anywhere! So yeah the perks mostly revolve around food and I think I ate more on Saturday than I ever have in my life. It was beautiful.

What was not beautiful was me on Sunday morning because we had to wake up at 4 AM to catch a ride to the airport and board a plane (if you can really call it that) to Chimoio. My host volunteer Jamie met us there in the PC office and after running some errands in the city we headed to Sussundenga. Both of these cities are in the province of Manica in the center of the country. It’s about an hour chapa ride from Chimoio to the lovely mountain town of Sussundenga. About halfway through the chapa passes through the market of a smaller village and you can buy produce from the vendors as they come up to the windows and try to entice you with their enticing selection of onions and tomatoes.

 Poor skinny dogs of Sussundenga.

The first full day in Sussundenga was nice because I basically got to see all of it...and because we had some delicious french toast. We walked about 6 and a half miles going around the lower half of the village and hiked a bit up into the mountains to look at the amazing view. We passed through all of the local mercados (markets) and at one of the clothing stands I found an ADII shirt from Baylor. Basically Africa is the end of the line for your clothes that got donated but never sold in America. They call them calamidades (literally calamities) and they’re pretty awesome sometimes.

The next day we walked around the top half of the village and I got to see the new secondary school and another gorgeous view. We ended the day eating dinner with a local family there. We ate rice and beans and I must say that you haven’t had rice and beans until you’ve had it here. Mozambicans definitely know how to cook beans.

I left the next day for Chimoio to overnight there with the other volunteers since we had such an early flight the next day. We spent the day in the city which was surprisingly nice. I don’t really like big cities, even in the States so I couldn’t see myself living in one here but after visiting Chimoio I really don’t have a preference one way or another. Despite it being urban we met a lot of nice people and the volunteers placed there seem to love it and feel at home. I also felt a lot safer than I expected to feel in the city. Also it helps to have pizza and soft serve ice cream available on command. Overall there were things I liked and things I didn’t about both sites, and I still have no strong convictions on the type of site I should request. Honestly I’m just ready to find out where my new home will be for the next two years!

Mountains in Sussundenga

On the way back from our lovely site experience we had a handful of headaches at the airport and then in Maputo at the Peace Corps office and basically had to hike across Maputo luggage in tow in order to catch a chapa back to Namaacha today when we were expecting to have another night at the hotel. But that’s Peace Corps for ya so whatever. As soon as I arrived back home I was tackled by my niece and nephew (who I recently learned are really my half brother and sister) and my sister Lidia and then Mãe. As soon as I saw them I was overwhelmed with how much I had missed them. I am so happy to be here, home with my family. And they made me my favorite dinner, Matapa!

So now I’m exhausted and we of course have a long day of core classes tomorrow, which I of course will not be paying attention to since we find out where our sites are this week.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Why I Joined The Peace Corps

I want to take some time here to talk about the idea of spreading information, education, training, love or whatever via person-to-person interaction. We call it a grassroots effort, and it is probably the most frustrating and difficult thing about being a Peace Corps volunteer.

My generation is one that was taught things like “you can do anything you set your mind to” and “impossible is a four letter word.” We are a generation of super competitive overachievers because we have big dreams and we crave fame, power, and notoriety. In my case, I had such a desire to change the world and I really believed that I could until adulthood and the real world set in. All of a sudden there were bills and student loan payments and an empty job market to worry about. So, I joined the Peace Corps…not to run away from adulthood but because I believed it was the best possible way for me to make a career out of meeting the needs of others without ending up homeless.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, though, it’s that you can’t come into this job thinking you can change the world, this country, or even the skewed notion that a girl’s education is less valuable than a boy’s. You don’t necessarily need to lower your expectations, but you do need to adjust them.

I think we all came here thinking we would find creative ways of making these kids love science. We’d jump in feet first into teaching a subject we love to these people and our innovative American attitudes would raise test scores, attendance and student participation across the board! That’s the idea, anyway, but it’s not the reality. 

Each week we get a pair of volunteers who are one or two years into their service. They help facilitate our lessons and give advice on what to expect from our sites, schools, etc. The reality they have delivered to us is that we will have much larger classes than anticipated (a class of 60-80 kids is normal), cheating is rampant, attendance is scarce, the grading system is often corrupt and biased, students rarely are equipped with textbooks and the textbooks themselves contain errors. So essentially I am now prepared to have a class underwhelmed with resources and overflowing with students, most of which don’t belong in the grade level or maybe don’t even speak Portuguese. I am also prepared to feel completely useless, because I think everyone feels this way when faced with such an overwhelming obstacle.

That brings me to the question: why am I still here? I’m still here because I believe in what I’m doing, even if I’m not always sure I know what I’m doing. I believe in the overall mission of the Peace Corps and that one day the education sector won’t be needed in this country, and I will be able to say I was a part of that. I believe I am here for a reason, even if I don’t yet know what it is and even if it’s something as simple as being a friend to one person here.

If you look at the HIV/AIDS epidemic, you’ll see a massive problem that seems too big and too overwhelming to overcome. When you think about this disease in America, you think of the billions of dollars spent on research and ad campaigns. I don’t think it would surprise anyone to learn it’s much different here. In lieu of the ad campaigns there are red ribbons painted and drawn on the street corners and bus stops. This weekend my mãe’s cousin cut her own throat because she found out she was HIV positive. She had two children. It’s devastating, and when you try to think of a solution it seems like too big of a problem and at first you come up empty. You can encourage your friends and neighbors to get tested. You can offer counseling or just lend an ear. You can teach sex-ed to a group of teenagers. You can’t solve the problem immediately, but the problem wasn’t created immediately either. It can be helped the same way it was spread: person to person.

The other day in one of our Tech sessions we talked about the traditional gender roles in the culture here, and one of our professors mentioned that people think he’s crazy when he goes grocery shopping for his wife or does housework because he’s a male and that’s not his role in society. He said they are even offended at his allowing his wife to continue her education. He believes in what he is doing for his wife and his family, though, and his view on how to combat this resistance is just to rationalize it with his friends. He said that once he explains that he is doing this for the benefit of his family and for his children a lot of times they will see his side of the equation. He may not change their viewpoint on gender roles in society, but if one person sees the benefit of gender equality and passes that on to another person you have started a chain of ideas. That’s what grassroots is, and I wholeheartedly believe in its effectiveness.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Nao Me Tocas

So a couple of posts ago I mentioned how surprised I was that Africa wasn’t as different as I expected it to be. There are a lot of differences, though and I think the best way to showcase them is to outline how my mãe and her friends came to the assumption that I am pregnant.

The events happened as follows:

1.       My family and my neighbor Matt’s family have been pining for us to get married and have children since we arrived, as they tell me almost daily. Any time we are walking together/hanging out is a big deal and basically considered a date according to Mozambican standards. Also, we both have teenage sisters who egg on the situation.

2.       Having switched Malaria prophy to Doxycycline recently, I had a bout of losing my breakfast Tuesday morning, which Mãe witnessed and shared with her friends. These friends just so happen to be the host mothers of the PCTs in my language group and so this info was shared at our cooking exchange the same day.

3.       Somewhere between explaining how to cook buffalo chicken and talk about how much I love Mozambican babies I accidentally agreed with something they said in Changana that caused the whole group of mães to laugh aloud for about five minutes. I tried to back track and say I didn’t understand but they just continued laughing at me.

And BOOM. I’m pregnant according to the Namaacha rumor mill, and now Mark’s mãe won’t stop touching my boobs every time she sees me. She doesn’t even make an attempt at being subtle, either because it’s totally socially acceptable. Along that note, privacy and personal space just aren’t the same here. People will seriously violate the typical American “bubble” and not even consider the fact that it would bother you. Everyone wants to touch your skin and hair because it’s different, and they won’t hesitate to pinch you and tell you to eat more. Sometimes this is annoying, like when my neighbor Hans (I call him this because of his handsy-ness and because I can never remember his real name) stays only two inches from my face when talking about music or proposing marriage, and gets increasingly closer as I try to subtly move away. Sometimes, though, it makes my day, like when I’m walking to class and a group of kids just bombard me with hugs or walk with me holding my hand and asking to try on my glasses.

Yesterday on our walk to class, Matt and I came upon a group of three little boys on their way to school. The first one said “Bom dia” to me and touched my butt, which I figured was an accident. The second one did the same, which made me think it was not accidental and when the third one reached his hand out I swatted him and said “Não não! Indiciplinados!” And they all laughed and ran away. The whole thing just made me think of the “he touched the butt” scene from Finding Nemo, except I am the large foreign thing everyone wants to touch.

So there is definitely a different culture here, and with that comes the awkward and often confusing integration period. One thing that I love though is that once a week we have Ngoma Time during which we share a little bit of American culture and get to experience some Moz culture as well. Yesterday we saw an awesome singing/step dance group perform, and one of our groups sang Sweet Caroline and Wagon Wheel which gave me flashbacks to Auburn (who broke the AP Top 25…what up!) and was a nice taste of home. My group explained the rules of Red Rover and then we all played a massive game of it in the school yard. It was so much fun, mostly because of how into it the Mozambicans got.

Today is the end of Week 3, and while it was off to a rough start it has ended sweetly. Our visiting volunteers Yuri and Anneke have had some really insightful information and tips for teaching large classrooms, which is much needed considering we will very likely have classes of 80+ students. My language group has a new professor due to complications with our old one and there is such a stark difference in our Portuguese class now. I feel like I’m learning so much more now even after just one class and I’m no longer dreading language hours. The only downside of today is that I REALLY needed to do laundry but it’s cold and rainy…not very conducive to line drying. I have enough clean underwear to last a couple more days though so here’s hoping we see some sunshine soon!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Chega, Mozambique

The first word they made sure to teach us in Portuguese was “chega.” It roughly translates to “I am full” or “I’ve had enough.” They make sure we know this because Mozambicans eat a TON of food. These people can take out a pot of rice big enough to feed a village in one sitting, and they expect you to eat this much as well.

Week Three is apparently hell week according to previous volunteers and I can’t help but agree. Maybe the new wore off or maybe the reality of how long we are staying here set in but yesterday everyone was one more handful of xima away from a trip to the nut house. I know I had had enough…enough class, enough homework, enough of every kid in the village shouting Ola 50,678 times on my morning walk, enough of no one understanding me when I speak…CHEGA!

Xima, by the way, is a sticky mix of corn flour and water that is a staple here in Moz. Also, it tastes like nothing. Grits and cream of wheat have 10 times more flavor than xima. I am seriously chega of xima.

After Portuguese class yesterday we had to run around Namaacha in search for ingredients for the cooking exchange today even though all any of us wanted was to go home and pass out, or in my case dip into my Reese’s pumpkin stash. On the way home I tripped over a rock and should have caught myself but instead I just kind of gave up halfway down. Some days there just aren’t enough rocks, but this day there were too many. I fell flat on my butt onto a protruding stone in the ground and now I have a bruise on my backside the size of Texas.

On the bright side, today was a great day. The cooking exchange was just what I needed. Within our language group we picked food to make for our maes and they cooked food for us. My mae cooked arroz com mboa, which is rice with pumpkin greens, coconut, peanuts and onions…very delish! Sorry to say though it couldn’t hold a candle to the meal we made for them. We fried up a chicken (after killing and cleaning it of course) and made buffalo sauce with some Frank’s that Mark had brought from home. Then we made real mashed potatoes with butter and milk and garlic, and fried green tomatoes using some ranch seasoning I had packed (thanks Kathryn!).
Who knew I would be having fried green tomatoes in Africa? Certainly not me, but you won’t hear me complain about it. As I was eating I could just close my eyes and easily feel just like I was back home. There is nothing like some comfort food to fix all your problems. This philosophy is probably why I will eventually weigh 300 lbs or so.The best part was that our maes loved our food! Mine even had seconds and told me she wanted to make fried tomatoes and buffalo chicken again.

So there are good days and bad ones. Sometimes I miss home but sometimes I am overwhelmed by the amazing culture here. Connecting with people over things like music, dance and food is a beautiful thing, especially with a language barrier. It never ceases to surprise me how similar we all are even with such different ways of life.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

My Life as "Face"

Well this is gonna be a long one. I’ll try to summarize the past two weeks as best I can…

I finally have internet! No phone, due to the faulty nature of technology purchased in Africa and the headache-nature of unlocking my iPhone, partially due to Apple and partially due to Sprint. But all this aside, I am finally able to update my blog…hooray!

Travel and our whirlwind stay in Maputo took a lot out of me, but I have never and will probably never again experience the range of emotions I felt on the day we arrived in Namaacha. We exited the buses and were greeted by a host of women in capulanas (Mozambican colorful fabric worn around the waist like a skirt) singing and holding pieces of paper with our names on them. I found my mãe and then, all of a sudden I was walking down the street with her towards the house I would be staying in for the next 3 months, racking my brain for things to say in Portuguese. It was awkward. When we got to the house I met my 19-year-old sister, Lidia and we ate lunch together after setting up my room and mosquito net.

I live in a 3 room house with a small gas stove (very nice when the power goes out…which is a lot) in the kitchen and a small television on which we watch tela-novellas every night. We also have a DVD players and a wealth of Kung-Fu movies but I have yet to watch any of them.
Around dinner time my family left for a party at our neighbor’s house who also happens to be the host family of one of the other volunteers, Matt. We had a great time eating and drinking and dancing and holding Matt’s adorable baby brother. It was probably nine or ten o’clock before my mãe told me the party was for a dead guy. She explained that everyone was having so much fun because they like to celebrate a person’s life instead of mourning their death. It was such a shock to be thrown into something like that with a bunch of people you’ve just met who don’t speak your language, but writing this down now is funny because someone in my immediate vicinity is either having a party or blasting music from their house constantly. I’ve just grown used to it. Usually my indicator that it’s time to get up and take a bath is Titanium blaring from my neighbor’s house every morning at 5:45 AM.

My first day in Namaacha feels like months ago, now. Since then I’ve killed a chicken, hiked up the mountains and to the Swaziland border, taught my family how to do the wop, learned all sorts of different Mozambican dances, given 4 haircuts to my fellow PCTs, and tried numerous times without results to explain to everyone why I’m not married with children yet.
My daily schedule these days is basically 12 hours of total-immersion Language classes sprinkled with classes about the technical aspects of teaching. I wake up at around 5 AM to the sound of HUNDREDS of roosters crowing at the same time and I lay there for about an hour daydreaming of cutting the heads off of every chicken that lives in this country. Then I take a bath out of a bucket outside, usually accompanied by a lizard or maybe a frog. The bucket bath is an art form but once you’ve mastered it you would be surprised how little water you actually need to bathe. And I get clean, too! It’s not pleasant in the mornings when it’s cold but nothing beats a nice outdoor bucket bath in the afternoon when it’s 100 degrees outside. After my bath I have to “tomar cha” which means to drink tea but I’m the only one who actually drinks tea in my family. The rest of them just load up their hot water with instant coffee, milk, sugar, etc. And God forbid you should do this without eating bread as well. Sometimes I have an egg or a banana too, but always bread lest mãe give me the third degree on why I did not eat bread with my tea in the morning. I think it might be somewhere in the Portuguese version of the Bible.

After a full day of grueling classes that make me want to drown myself in my bath bucket or maybe even my latrine, I usually go for a walk around Namaacha to visit my friends and return home in time to eat dinner and watch the Brazilian soap opera Passions with mãe before passing out from exhaustion at around 8.

Living in Africa is of course different than living in the States, but in a lot of ways it is very similar. The other night we had German potato salad for dinner! Everyone laughs when I tell them my name since it translates to "face" in Portuguese, and some of them refuse to recognize it as a name at all and just call me Carla or Carlotta. It’s very overwhelming right now but at the same time there is such a routine that it was easy to accept the quirks and roll with it. This is my life now, for the next two years and I am so lucky to be experiencing it and to have 49 other wonderful people to share this experience with.

A few of the girls in our group have started to meet every week for devotions and talking with them really makes me excited to see what God has in store for all of us during this period. It’s so hard and so overwhelming sometimes and I have experienced every single emotion that humans are capable of, sometimes all in one day.  At the end of the day, though, I know I’m here in this place with these people for a reason and I can’t wait to watch it unfold.

Currently the best bet of contacting me in the near future is probably Facebook or email. I love and miss everyone from home but my days are so jam packed that it’s hard to find time to check in, so please forgive me! I will try to update more often from now on and hopefully I’ll have some pictures to show soon, too. Right now, though, my sister is frying some delicious-smelling chicken and I think it’s time for a Domingo nap before lunch.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Welcome to Moz!

There is one word that keeps coming up when I or any of my fellow volunteers try to describe our feelings on our current situation: overwhelmed. It was overwhelming to say goodbye to so many people that I will love and miss for the next 27 months. I was overwhelmed at training with all these new faces and with the amount of information given to us in 7 hours. The flights were overwhelming. I was awake from 6:45 AM Tuesday morning until about 11 PM last night (Thursday), aside from dozing on the plane. I have no idea what time or day it is because those three days just felt like one very long day. Then today was filled with scary “you’ll probably die or get mugged here” speeches from the Embassy agents and even scarier “you’re teaching students in fluent Portuguese in three months” spiels sprinkled, of course, with lots of shots and hilarious yet emphatic condom lectures from the medical officers. There’s just so much information and so many emotions that I don’t even know what to do with myself.

Somehow, though, even when I get a little panicky I still have this feeling that everything will be fine. Honestly the most overwhelming thing I have experienced is also what I believe has kept me going: the insane amount of love, support, and prayers I have received from everyone back home. So, thank you all because it truly means the world to me.
I don’t even know how to express my gratitude so you’ll just have to trust that your kind words and gifts have made a tremendous impact on my transition so far. Also, please don’t feel bad if I can’t or don’t respond to texts, emails, facebook, etc. right now because I have probably had a total of 2 hours to myself since we arrived  at staging and wifi was available for only half of that.

Not that I’m complaining, though, because I love every single person in our group. I really feel like I just made 50 more best friends. There has been some poking fun at my accent, as I knew would happen, but I’m not the only Southerner here so that makes me happy. In fact, there are a couple of people who live in the Atlanta area even. Also one of them has a friend from Conyers, which is strange. So many weird connections—it’s crazy how small the world is.
When we arrived in Africa, sleep deprived and delirious, it was strange that it reminded me a lot of Peru. The houses and shops and markets are just uncanny, down to the Coca Cola umbrellas sheltering the street carts from the sun. It also reminded me of the slum at SIFAT and the one we built on campus with Committee of 19. Lots of lean-tos made from aluminum siding and tarps, lots of slum areas outside of the city. Currently we are staying in a nice hotel…not just nice for Africa. Maputo is a big city on the coast and while we are not allowed to leave the hotel we will come back before going to site so I’ll be excited to actually visit the beach. Until then I’ll just have to settle for the gorgeous view, hot showers, and three delicious meals a day. Not a bad deal if you ask me. Right now I am listening to the DJ outside play “Call Me Maybe” and “Mambo Number Five,” so that’s more than amusing.

Tomorrow we meet our host families and begin Pre-Service Training, or PST (Peace Corps has so many abbreviations). I already know that my mãe and pãe have a 19 year old daughter, and that my pãe is a police officer. Honestly I am most worried about communicating with them, because when I get anxious I have trouble remembering any vocabulary at all. I am excited, though because after much worrying that I would be stuck in English or Math, our Training packets have confirmed that I will be teaching Biology! Woohoo...cells and bacteria and genetics! To put a cherry on top of the situation, there are a pack of Bio nerds who love to talk about science as much as I do and we will be living close together in our own bairro with the Chemistry volunteers.

Ok, so this post was pretty much word vomit so you’ll have to forgive me and chalk it up to the overstimulation currently taking over my life. I love it, though. One of the signs entering the South African airport in Johannesburg hit the nail on the head for me. It said, “They call it Africa. We call it home.” 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Pursuit of Healthiness: Medical Clearance

I suppose I'm overdue for a post, but there really hasn't been anything to write about. The Peace Corps, you see, is a giant game of "Hurry Up And Wait." There are a few deadlines that require great effort (usually paperwork-related) but they are so spaced out that you're just left sitting in the dark for weeks or months at a time.

Today was one of those deadlines that I am so happy to have completed so I can resume sitting around and pretending I don't have to pack 2 years worth of stuff into 2 suitcases in a couple of months (really 1 because I have designated one suitcase to be filled with peanut butter and kraft mac n cheese). Today was the end of medical clearance!

Ahh yes. No more being pricked or stabbed or poked and prodded. This is a major relief for me for two reasons. First, I don't like the doctor. Don't get me wrong, I love my doctor and all the nurses who work in his office. In fact, I had my first tearing up moment when they were all saying goodbye and wishing me luck. They have all known me since I was born, after all (Yes, I still go to my pediatrician, judge if you wish). But the Tupps clan is traditionally a self-medicating kind of family. If we go to the doctor, we go because there is no other choice. If it can possibly get knocked out by our immune systems, we let it. So the fact that I had to have a dental exam, physical, extensive blood work, vaccines and a...ehem...female exam in the span of a few weeks was just too much. Granted, I have had months to get this done but let's not pretend my procrastinating ways left my system when I graduated.

Secondly, since the Tupps clan isn't in the market for routine medical maintenance, we don't have health insurance. So basically I thought I was going to have to put up my unborn children as collateral in order to pay for all of these things. I made it work, though, with some resourcefulness. For the dental exam, dentists belonging to the ICD will do peace corps exams and xrays for free! So I found this nice old man in Atlanta to do mine.

Then there's the lab work. There's really no way of getting around paying a good bit for lab work and PC requires a lot of it! I did manage to get my HIV, Hep B and Hep C tests done for free by requesting my test results from the Red Cross after giving blood, which is something I do regularly anyways. That cut a big chunk out of the cost and I had enough money saved from nannying and graduation that I could now (at the last minute) get the rest of my blood work done at the health department. Of course, no one wants to make two trips to that awful place so I scheduled my pap test for the same day.* Needless to say it was not the best day ever.**

Now all that I had left was the physical, which I thought wouldn't cost much until I saw the fine print that it must be done by an M.D. or a D.O. and realized the only people who work at the walk-in clinics or the health department are nurses or PAs. Anyway I came out of it spending less than $500 so for all you uninsured future PCVs it can be done!

And it is done! And I am glad, because I felt like I was walking around with band-aids on my arms for a solid two weeks.

Now, on to more exciting things.

I found out that staging is in Philadelphia! So while I'm not as excited as I would have been if it were in LA or DC, I still can't wait! Philly cheesesteaks and the Liberty Bell! Staging, by the way is sort of a 2-day debriefing where all of the Group 21 Mozambiquers meet each other before we fly out for training. Did I mention that I'm excited? I cannot wait to meet everyone I'll be going with and to, you know, actually GO. The only bad thing about it is that the Braves aren't playing in Philly the days I'll be there, sigh.

That's all for now. I'll report back when there's something to report about again. In the mean time, the list of things to do/buy gets longer and the days get shorter.

*Side story: An example of how awful the health department is: I am sitting in a chair waiting for a very nervous nurse to draw blood. I have tiny veins and whenever I give blood they always have some sort of issue getting that large needle in there. She asks for someone else to do it because she can't find one to draw from and two nurses come in to help. One of them says loudly that she hasn't drawn blood in a long time and needs to "practice on someone." My nurse tells her she doesn't want to practice on me because of my veins. She says "Aw, I bet I could do it!" I don't know what the stare I gave her looked like but I was trying to channel, "touch that needle and I will use it to gauge your eyes out slowly." It must have worked because she let the second nurse do it.

**Another health department gem: I was not allowed to eat or drink anything before drawing blood for my lab work, yet they still expected me to pee in a cup. Twice.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

So, do they?

It's approaching 3 AM on a Friday night and I am looking through Google search results for baseball in Africa. This is what my life has come to. As it turns out, Africa does have baseball! Not much, but it's there and there is also a humanitarian effort to use children's baseball leagues to raise HIV/AIDS awareness. Don't ask me why this question arose...I was just thinking about opening day and how if the Braves finally win the World Series this year I won't be around to see it. (It's not far-fetched, okay?)

I recently received the information on my country of service and assignment as well as a WEALTH of paperwork to fill out, agree to, scan, mail, email, fax and telegraph to various offices. Oh, and I only have a few months to get it all done. So I'm stressed and instead of just getting it done I'm looking up how to obtain a pet mongoose once I've arrived in Africa.

Here's the quick and dirty summary of my assignment:

Country: Mozambique
Wait...where is that?! : It is right above South Africa and across the Indian Ocean from Madagascar

When I leave: September 24th for Staging (still somewhere in the US). September 26th for AFRICA! (mark your calendars)

When I'll be back: December 5th, 2015

What I'll be doing with my life between graduation and then: I don't know, okay? Gimme a break, geez!

So those are the crucial details...there's so much more but Montel Williams just came on the TV so that means I should have gone to sleep long, long ago.