Monday, December 30, 2013

12/31/2013: Happy New Year

So another year is over and I’m sitting here watching my new kitten destroy pipe cleaners and reflecting on another year gone by. When a year ends, I don’t really like making a list of resolutions I won’t follow or hopes for the next year, because I have no idea what’s in store. I like to reflect on the year gone by and thank God for the lessons learned, the memories made, the challenges that made me stronger, and the blessings that made me happier.
This past year seems utterly unreal, a complete roller coaster.
My grandmother passed away last Christmas after a few really hard years in assisted living which made the beginning of 2013 quite difficult on us all. But January 2013 wasn’t empty of blessings. Shortly after the new year, I was able to accomplish a life goal of receiving my Wilderness First Responder certification, which I know would have made my grandmother extremely proud. Unfortunately, that blessing was followed by another heartache in my family when we had to put our dog Bobby down. But God doesn’t give us hardships for nothing. The result was my family coming together and spending more time together and relearning how to truly enjoy each other’s company.
After graduating university (another blessing of 2013!) I went on to lead back-to-back high school trail crews for SCA in Alaska and California—which has been my goal since I was a high school remember and I got to end my summer as a bridesmaid in my most wonderful cousin’s wedding in Maine. Needless to say, after such a hard winter with much heartbreak and let downs, I had a summer to help make up for it all.
 But the biggest blessing of all of 2013 is achieving my life long dream of joining the Peace Corps. I still can’t believe I am writing this post from my little house in Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer. In September, I cleaned up my room, packed up my bags, had a few tearful goodbyes and jumped ship to Mozambique.
Needless to say, after the year of 2013, I don’t see the point of sitting here hoping for a better 2014 or a different 2014. 2013 was great and obviously 2014 is going to be different—I’m in a different country with a new job, new friends, and a new house.
All I think I can and should do is be grateful for such a packed and exciting 2013—the good and the bad are what make a year, the blessings and the lessons are what shape you throughout your year.
I hope you all have a chance to be thankful for the year past and here’s to another year to come!
Happy New Year from Mozambique my friends.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

12/24/2013: That’s what Christmas is all about Jessie

Merry Christmas from Mozambique!
I’ve been feeling a bit like Charlie Brown. I’m so used to Christmas in the states and I’ve been trying to bring that feeling to my house here. All the cocoa and cookies in the world can’t make 107 degrees and no family feel like Christmas, but somewhere in watching the 2 staple Christmas movies in my house—The Polar Express and A Charlie Brown Christmas—the feeling arrived, almost as if Linus and Santa were both talking directly to me:

“This bell sis a wonderful symbol of the spirit of Christmas – as am I. Just remember, the true spirit of Christmas lies in your heart” –The Polar Express

“Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were so afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’
That’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.” –A Charlie Brown Christmas

I am living the spirit of Christmas. I followed the calling God put on my heart to move to Africa and serve the Lord in one of the most beautiful ways possible. The cookies and cocoa and giant Christmas and presents can wait. For the first time in God knows how long, all I want for Christmas is my family. I can’t have them here physically but I know they are thinking about me and as we sit and watch the same movies and track the same football games—it’s the little things right now—I can at least feel like we’re together.

Meanwhile blessings can found in the oddest packages.
The other day one of the nuns was heading to church and she asked if I wanted to go along. Part of me wanted to sit in my bed and stare at my book, but I knew that wasn’t the best decision. I went along with her. Turned out it was a day of giving to the poor elderly. Some South Africans had started a charity to provide food and gifts for the elderly in the community who can’t create their own holiday celebrations. So I met the Xinavane South Africans. Almost immediately I was adopted into their little group and invited to dinner at their clubhouse, invited to their weekend cook out, invited to have Christmas day with them. God bless the woman who when I said “yeah, I’m here by myself without my family” she said, “that is so brave but you shouldn’t be without any family on Christmas, come be with us.”
I don’t know how God will use me with these new connections. Maybe they’re in my life to help me adjust and have a place to go when I get homesick and some people who speak English to pass time with. But maybe God will use our connections and our skills together to help the people in Xinavane, maybe they’ll come to play in my secondary projects or my teaching. Maybe I’ll bring something to them.
Only God knows where this is going and meanwhile all I can do is enjoy the holidays with some families and continue to use my life to shine God’s light here in Africa.

And then Linus says to me “That’s what Christmas is all about Jessie Johnson”

So I hope you all are having a fabulous Christmas and enjoying your comforts and traditions but also remembering to bring life to the true spirit of Christmas.
PS Happy birthday Jesus

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

12/17/2013: Do they know it's Christmastime?

One of my favorite songs around Christmas is a Band-Aid song "Do They Know it's Christmastime?" And for once I can feel I can answer one of the questions, "And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime [ps there really won't] they know it's Christmastime at all?" Well, so here's the thing. Maybe they do. The nuns are preparing their services and they're excited I'll be around, shops in Maputo have their decorations up and even my own house is decorated a bit. So yeah, Band-Aid, I think here in Africa they are aware it's Christmas.
But do I know it's Christmas? Not so much. I know that Christmas is about something bigger than decorations and special Starbucks drinks and presents. So I've been diving into Advent devotionals to try to remind myself of my belief. And I know I believe that, but at the end of the day, it's just not quite feeling like Christmas.
Christmas to me does have family, red Starbucks cups filled with white peppermint mochas, big special dinners, Christmas movies with my family, Christmas music always playing in the background, little gifts on Sundays leading up to Christmas, decorating the tree, hanging lights, playing with the nativity set...the smells, sounds, sights...those are the constant reminders that it IS Christmas. And that's what I am missing. No Advent devotional can fill that void for Christmas for me. They can remind me of the greater meaning of Christmas, they can help better my life and my faith, but it doesn't bring the whole Christmas feeling to my heart in Africa.
Meanwhile I know I am surrounded by blessings.
I am recovering from shingles--yeah that part wasn't so fun, but it was an excuse for me to go into Maputo to pick up medication and then spend the day in the city, including eating crabs at the fish market.
I know my site is beyond amazing with my own indoor bathroom and a kitchen and a wall around our compound. My house is the nuns' guesthouse so I more often than not can find at least one other person to talk to and have tea with until my roommate gets home.
I get to spend 2 Christmases in Africa, a continent I had always dreamed of visiting.
So overall, this isn't a blog post about not liking Africa or whatever. I'm in a land of blessings and a place where I can share my blessings. It is simply an answer to Band-Aid's age old question--No, I don't always know it's Christmas time, and I so very much wish I did.
But that's ok. I have 2 great years ahead of me here and then after that I have a lifetime of red Starbucks ups filled with gingerbread lattes, front windows with Christmas trees, midnights of making Christmas cookies, and giant Christmas dnners. So maybe it's a little hard to miss the Christmas spirit right now but man life always has blessings around.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

12/7/2013: Honey, I’m Home

I am writing this new post from my new beautiful casa. Yesterday was moving day and I’ve finally settled in to Mozambique and no longer need to live out of a suitcase! …for the first time in 10 months. Minus the question late at night of “um…what am I doing??” my site is absolutely amazing.
We live within the compound where the nuns live, which is probably the safest place in the neighborhood I could possibly live, and it doesn’t hurt that they are amazing. The nuns are absolutely the sweetest, kindest, most laid back and they are really excited to have us here! Our house itself is just adorable. We have a little kitchen area in side of a screened in porch and then we each have our own rooms with our own bathrooms. And even though Peace Corps called this site new, pretty much all we’ve had to buy is a stove and a fridge (plus what ever little things we want in our rooms). I actually get to set up shelves in a bathroom and put my clothes in a dresser! The nuns have a garden that we can use full of avocados, mangos, lychee, papaya, and all kinds of veggies. It is likely the greatest set up possible.
We live close to the market and to our school, such a perfect location. I visited the school yesterday and it is beautiful. After talking to my coworkers I think it’s going to be a great year! Then we walked around the market, where we can get just about anything we need, but then of course there are a couple of cities near by in case.

Now I am home and unpacked, minus a few other things for my room. And so begins my 2 years.

My room

Getting ready for Christmas as best as I can

I decorated our front door too :)

Our porch

Our kitchen


The nuns' house

Our ducks and chickens

Our farm

Avocados are coming!

Our house again

The gazebo hang out area thing

Friday, December 6, 2013

Minha Familia and Swearing In

Classe 8d for Model School


My host siblings!

My host family (minus my pai)

My Namaacha cousins at Swearing In

12/3/2013: Goodbyes and new beginnings

It’s official. This week celebrated Thanksgiving, Homestays, and the end of training to finally become official sworn in Peace Corps Volunteers.
Last Friday (yes, a day late) we were able to create our own little (or not so little) family Thanksgiving in Namaacha. Of course, our mães thought we were insane thinking we could cook things like turkeys, green bean casserole, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pie, and other things. And I quote (but translated) “YOU are chiefi of pumpkin pie?? You know how to cook??” “Yes mãe, I cook all the time at home.” It’s never the same as being with our families, but it all came together and reminded us a little bit of home.
To continue the party weekend, the next day was our Homestay celebration! Our mães cooked all the traditional Mozambican food and gave us family capulanas. Such a bittersweet time. Transitioning from training to volunteering but saying goodbye to each other and our families.
But now here we are, in Maputo, officially Volunteers, freshly sworn in by the ambassador himself. It’s kind of weird. We are about to start the real adventure of why we joined Peace Corps—not hanging out with 50 other Americans, not being taken care of by our mães, actually teaching It’s all about to begin. And it’s a little scary. We’re leaving what has become our reality and started a whole new reality—again—I feel like this is something I JUST did isn’t it?? But here we go again starting over, again. And it really is pretty exciting! Soon I’ll get to meet my roommate, I’ll get to meet the irmãs at the school, I’ll have my own house, I can start my own routine, and my Mozambique reality and dream can begin. And I’m excited.
After a week of our supervisors conference and spending time in Maputo eating “American” food and hanging out together, we have finally at our sites! I arrived in my site today and it’s just fantastic! My roommate is amazing, the nuns are wonderful, and the school is beautiful. The other teachers are all really excited to be teaching and I’m excited to call them my coworkers. Now to unpack…which most of you know I really severely hate. But hopefully this will be the last time for 2 years.  

I’ll update my pics soon.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

11/23/2013: The final push

The past week we have been holding Model School in the morning. Children from Namaacha sign up to be students (its amazing how many people you can find when you promise free snacks, notebooks, and pens) and we hold lessons like we will in our classrooms (although I’m teaching Biology in Model School and Chemistry in real school…so that’s cool). Along with preparing lessons and exams for our students we’ve been preparing for our very own language exams and packing up our things for our site.
After 10 weeks in the training town of Namaacha in our comfortable homestay families surrounded by other trainees and volunteers everyday we are getting ready to be pushed out of the nest, just in time for the holidays.
I think most of us are kind of ready to just go out on our own. I feel personally I can’t advance my Portuguese much more in this setting and it’s time to take it out into the real world where I don’t have other Americans to talk to all the time and I’m forced to perfect my language skills. I’m anxious to get into the classroom and start experiencing teaching Chemistry (which I haven’t studied since high school) in Portuguese (which I just learned) and witness the Mozambican school system (the lows—corruption, lack of funding, no textbooks, no desks, cheating…the typical struggles, along with the highs—eager students, colleagues to help, a changing curriculum and culture).
As excited as I am to get to my site, meet my roommate, and settling into my new home, it is bittersweet (as most good things are). My host family has just been so fantastic and I’m so happy to be leaving with so many stories and experiences already. My mae has been so warm and welcoming, and also a lot crazy, but in the good way. She’s only a few years older than me and I think having someone my age around has offered her a break from the duties of being a mother of two and given her some opportunities to blast music, dance around, and have fun. We’ve both benefitted from our moments together.
It’s crazy how 10 weeks feels really long in retrospect. Not because it was boring by any means, but because it is so jam-packed. And events are almost on fast track. It’s like what I’ve experienced during trail crew. When there’s only so many of you in an isolated environment (ours being that there are only so many Americans in Namaacha at any given time) friendships develop quickly, moments seem more precious, and time together is more cherished. Everyday (and I mean literally everyday) we have had an activity, we have had something to do to develop our skills, give back to Namaacha, integrate, or create a support system with each other. And being so busy makes 10 weeks feel longer, not slower, but longer.

So full circle of this, time’s up and it is time for these birds to leave the nest, spread out, and go develop our own little Mozambican lives in our sites. And I think it’s just the perfect time for the next part of the adventure to begin.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Side note: My biggest pet peeve (I think...)

Throughout my education, I constantly heard people complain about having to go to school or having to study or having to do homework or get tutoring...these complaints always rubbed me the wrong way, even though I too sometimes fell victim to a whine or too.
But my friend shared an article that just re-rooted in my mind WHY I like to teach, WHY I joined the education project for Peace Corps, and mostly WHY it has always bothered me to hear people in the states complain about school.
We just don't know how good we have it, I was always somehow aware that I was lucky, but now, I not just "somehow aware of my luck," but it has been hit on my head with a sledge hammer that I was BLESSED for my education. Sure I worked hard, but I grew up in a place where it was my responsibility and my right to study hard and it was expected that I follow my dream, which happened to be university, and I was supported. And I can almost guarantee anyone who feels they are not supported...compared to what we face as teachers here dealing with students (especially female students)...YOU ARE SUPPORTED! Take advantage of the possibilities and the opportunities and love every second of it, but then take what you have reaped from your blessings and share it! Empower others and just go. Just by existing as a young adult who worked hard and got a college degree--regardless of age or gender--you can empower a youth in a developing nation who has been taught to believe university is irrelevant who has never been taught how to dream.

Mozambique Education (CLICK THIS LINK PLEASE)

11/14/2013: Karama + Site Placements

Today was the big day we have all been waiting for this week. At the end of the day, our site placements were finally announced!

I get to stay in the southern region, and I am absolutely elated! I will be teaching at a mission school, which here is code for chique! Usually class sizes are 30-40 instead of 80-100 and often times they have desks and chalkboards! …Hey, this is Africa, it’s the simple things! Apparently my house is going to super chique as well—it has running water and electricity and easy access to transportation, plus we’ll be living on the same grounds as the nuns—that certainly adds a sense of security for me.

“Why the ‘karma’ Jessie? This sounds great.”

I mean, it is an excellent set up and I’m super excited for the upcoming experience. However, I will be teaching CHEMISTRY. Whoop, there it is. The karma. Anyone who has spent an ounce of time with me since 10th grade, especially in college, is acutely aware that I avoided anything involving chemistry, even ignoring advice from my advisor to take a least a couple courses in the subject. Então here I am, of course about to teach it IN PORTUGUESE. Corpo da Paz is for the flexible however, and I had said that I would teach Chemistry because I would rather stick to the sciences than be forced to venture into *gasp* MATH…that would just be horrible.

So in about 3 weeks, I will meet my new roommate and move into a new house, not to far from where I am now, and start the next chapter of my adventure teaching

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

11/9/2013: The Importance of Friends

Obviously we all know friends are important, that’s not a secret in life. But let me tell you the importance I have discovered about the yahoos in my daily life here in Africa. Without them, I would be lost. It all started in a language group (and the fact that we just don’t live near anyone else) but seriously, I have never laughed so hard or so often in my life. The most simple, mundane tasks like walking to the gas station for a snack or sitting in a boring lecture hall, become hilarious with these people. In everyday life, these kinds of friends are nice to have. Here, these kinds of friends are a treasure. There are constant stresses with training and living somewhere completely different and language…and just so much going on beyond explanation. And honestly, I have finally discovered the truth behind the expression laughter is the best medicine. I know it certainly makes all the difference in the world to me here, and some how the most insane and crazy group of people keeps me the sanest.  I think we are all individually learning how important friends are going to be as a support group during the next few years. It seems like an obvious truth but I never fully understood it until recently. Here’s to great friends here and in America keeping each other going everyday.

11/8/2013: Game Changer

This past week we were sent throughout the country for site visits—to spend some time with a current volunteer and get an idea of a daily routine and what a site is like….etc. I think for most of us (and I know especially for me) site visits came at the absolutely most perfect time and for me they were quite a game changer. Training is exhausting and overwhelming and at times discouraging and I was honestly starting to wonder if I had made the right decision to move to Africa.
For my site visit, I went to Manjangue, Gaza, just a little north of Maputo. My site visit partners were Lauren and Colin—math teachers and we visited Nick—also a math teacher. Our first night, we went out to Xai-Xai (the capitol of Gaza) and visited the beach with a couple other site visit groups from the Xai-Xai area. I finally got to see the Indian Ocean. The next day, Lauren, Colin, Nick, and I began our adventure to Manjangue. It was HOT. It took us 3 crowded chapas and a couple of hours to get to site but it was so worth it. Upon arrival we found that Nick’s cat had some new kittens! So adorable. And we finally got to cook on our own! I think that’s what we miss the most at training, having control over what we are cooking, when we are cooking it, and how much of it we eat. It was so nice to finally have that freedom. We made veggie stir fry, brownies, homemade pita, and homemade humus—not all in one day of course. But it was surprisingly rejuvenating to have control in the kitchen and the ability to experiment with cooking in Mozambique.
Nick lives on the school grounds, which is pretty cool. We were able to interact a lot with his students. Its around the time of the National 10th grade exams so a lot of kids were out of school, but they still came by the house and students would stop in on their way to take their tests. Because he lives so close to school, we were also able to help him with some paperwork (paultas are giant grade sheets and he needed to digitize them) and talk with the school directors and other professors. Its great in theory to hear about schools here in class, but it is just so great to actually experience the school and spend some time there.

During our visit, Nick took us to his closest city—Chokwe—so we could do exploration and buy some capulanas. We also got lunch there and I finally got to have a hamburger!! I mean—no place does hamburgers like America, its just a fact, but man I was craving one and it certainly fulfilled that craving. On the return from Chokwe, we had 23 people + 4 babies stuffed into a chapa. I think the next day we actually broke that record since we had people sitting on laps and more people standing, but none of us were really in position to count heads so the record is questionable. It was pretty overwhelming, but also made me feel like I live in Mozambique—I am no longer in position to get rides in an empty Peace Corps car, but am actually part of the local culture of over crowded, HOT chapas.
We left Nick’s site a day early to return to Xai-Xai and hang out at the beach with the other groups again. I have finally swam in the Indian Ocean! So cool!!! I know it’s just another ocean, but its just so awesome to say I’ve swam in it! After, we went out to chique restaurant that is a favorite of the health volunteer we were visiting. Just a little taste of America with some pizza and beer.
To get home, I left with my friends Deej, Arden, Fei, and Jen and we took a chapa to the site where Arden and Fei were staying so they could get their stuff. We then, from there, boleaed (flagged down a free ride) a truck to go to Maputo. 3 hours in the back of a pick up truck later—totally wind blown and sunburned—we landed in Maputo on a crowded bus to Namaacha. By the end of the day I was so exhausted, hot, tired, and dirty I wasn’t even sure I ever wanted to travel again in Africa. Now, clean and refreshed, I think it was probably one of the greatest travel experiences I’ve had here—it was all just so typical Mozambique and because of that, I feel a little less like a strange visitor.
Over all, just getting out of Namaacha and having a chance for smaller groups to hang out as we would at our sites when we are spread throughout the country and experience some independence we are not afforded at training helped us all regroup and come back to training to hopefully finish strong. Assuming we can get our language up and not get scolded again for our lack of Portuguese (but that is whole different and unnecessary story).
I think definitely the biggest highlight was visiting the beach. I know that sounds so cheesy. But I grew up going to beaches ALL THE TIME and I even went to college in a location that would be close the beach. I LOVE beaches. And just being around the sand and smelling the salt air and having sand in my hair and clothes for days reminded me of home and made me feel like home here. Namaacha—for all of it’s beauty—is extremely landlocked and for someone who seeks out shorelines, being landlocked sometimes makes me restless and upset.
Now Monday we have our site interviews and Thursday we find out where we will be living for the next 2 years. Praying I get a great site, but more so praying that wherever I go I make the best of it and get everything from this experience that I can.

Um pouco cross culture: just a small observation about some cultural differences in my family. I have recently discovered that my host pai cooks, cleans, bathes the kids, and serves all of us before he himself eats, he also will tell my mãe he loves her in front of family members. Now, in America this all seems like a “duh…what else would a pai do??” but here, it is quite unusual. They also pressure Betou into getting higher than a 10 on his exams, in Mozambique everything is graded on a scale of 20 and 10 is considered passing, 12 is considered good. Betou got a 12 on an exam and my host parents told him they knew he could do better and needed to try harder. It’s pretty cool to be staying with a family that seems to moving away from the very traditional Mozambican life. I haven’t quite figured out why my family acts differently, the only thing I can think is that my pai spends a lot of time in South Africa which is a fairly progressive country and has the western influence from there.
Just a small cross culture experience for you to get a peek into how life is here in Mozambique.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

I added new pics to my album

New pictures!

10/31/2013: Dia da Bruxas

It seems only fitting that the weirdest day in Africa thus far has landed on Halloween, known here as Dia da Bruxas. While talking to my best friend at home I realized it is quite hard for me to fully capture the feeling of today in words—I think a lot of it has to do with our mindsets and the stress we are under. But I am going to attempt to share my odd day with those of you at home, if only because I want to get the story out.
A quick back story, in my house right now is my host mom, my host brother, and my host sister. I’ve introduced them in previous posts. But obviously my brother and sister have a father (if you didn’t know that, I am a biology teacher and can give you a lesson) and their father is in fact my mom’s husband. He lives in South Africa building houses. It is quite common for fathers to be gone the majority of the year working else making money, often while starting other families. As a result the mothers sometimes have a boyfriend or something in their village. The idea of not having a partner for more than a week is inconceivable to many here in Mozambique (so that’s always a fun education about how just because I’ve left America for 2 years does not mean I need a Mozambican man).

Back to today.
It all started last night really. A massive…a dare say minor tropical depression…graced Namaacha with it’s presence. Let me tell you how fun tornado speed winds and golf ball sized hail Is when you have a flimsy tin rood…and I definitely spent a good hour cleaning mortar off all of my stuff and out of my room…my walls literally crumbled around me. It was an INTENSE storm that we all immediately reported on our Facebooks and wallowed together today over the lack of sleep it caused and the day without energy that followed. It was the most intense storm so far and scared even those of us who have lived with the likes of hurricanes and tornadoes in our lives. So we were all in a pretty weird mood today to begin with…it’s Halloween, we’re having a Halloween party tomorrow, no one slept, and we’re leaving on Sunday for our week long site visits with current volunteers—energy and excitement was high making school almost impossible for all of us. Following school, my lingua group and I decided to take our usual trip to our mini America—Total Gas Station. It’s close to where the Bio teachers live and offers Lays potato chips, Simba chips (not American…but close to it!), ice cream, Cadbury chocolate, and Cocoa-Cola Light (their version of Diet Coke, which, after a week without Diet Coke was just fine for me). When we arrived we could tell that one of the customers was a little off but we couldn’t tell exactly was going on. Well…our Portuguese is good enough that we figured out after about 10 minutes they were fighting with the clerk who didn’t want them to sell drugs behind the gas station and they were calling the police. There was a lot of screaming and a lot of accusations, so naturally, we left. Really bummed that we didn’t get our American snacks and weirded out that  that there was drug fight in little Namaacha. We went for our plan B. Xavier’s is our favorite bar and James, the son of Xavier serves delicious samosas (even I think they’re delicious and I’ve sworn off of Indian food). We entered and James knew immediately what we were looking for and broke the sad news that he had no samosas. This seems like a minor problem…which is why I said some of this may just be our mindsets…it was a BIG DEAL. So we go to plan C…pão with soy chicken nuggets (yes, they have those here) stuff inside. On our way we run into a Japanese lady we’ve seen wandering around Namaacha. Turns out she is a teacher volunteering for the Japan version of Peace Corps…who knew that existed!! So we were able to communicate with someone who speaks Japanese, not English, because we all speak Portuguese, which sounds less cool than it really is. It’s different than talking to someone from Namaacha who, DUH, knows Portuguese, or talking to current volunteers who also speak English. It was way cool. Well…plan C was a bust. There was no pão near us…so weird because there’s ALWAYS pão. So we gave up and returned to our houses. My house was still energyless, so I was bracing myself for a night of accomplishing nothing. Halfway through dinner, energy returned to Barrio B. Here, it’s monumentous when energy comes back. You can’t escape the cheers of excitement. Almost simultaneously, our door opens and this man with a suitcase walks in. Turns out it’s my pai??? No one knew he was returning to Namaacha this evening and my host mom has spent the rest of the evening shooting me hilarious faces. I’ve tried to pick up what I can with my Portuguese, but she is talking mostly in Changana, if at all because he’s here so she doesn’t really want to announce she’s not pleased at this addition to our house. But her faces say it all, and it is hilarious. I think she and I have bonded a little in communicating only with facial expressions.
So that’s my weird day. Maybe it is just weird to those of us here in Africa, but I felt like sharing what an atypical day in Africa is like. I hope I did the story well and was a least a little entertaining. If it wasn’t entertaining, try to put yourself in my shoes and imagine what today felt like. It was weird.
Before I head out, I will update you on my site visit. So a site visit is designed for us to get an idea of what the next 2 years will be like, outside of our little training summer camp in Namaacha. I am visiting a volunteer in Gaza, which is just north of the Maputo Province (I’m sorry. If you want to understand exactly where Gaza is, I’m going to ask you to do what my Geography teacher would always say…get a map). All I know so far is that I will likely get to visit a beach. I’m sure I’ll have much more to say about it next Friday when I return.

Now I must bid this day ado. It has been much too strange for me. And tomorrow I have a language oral exam and I would like to prove that I do in fact know some Portuguese. I certainly cannot wait for the day when I’m fluent enough that I accidentally forget to switch out of Portuguese to English or forget simple English words. I know that day will come, it has been promised the science teachers that it just happens naturally because we literally cannot use any English in our classrooms.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

10/27/2013: Back to the Basics

I’ve had a couple of conversations with both people here and in the States and realized I should take a little time to back up and explain some of the basics of my Peace Corps service.

Let me start with “why are you doing Peace Corps?”
People often don’t think this question is nearly as loaded as it is. Why did I just leave all of my comforts from home, why did I just leave all of my friends, why am I away from my family for two years? I have the typical selfless reasons: I have the ability to help others, so why not do something? It’s my duty to serve in some form. Peace Corps helps teach and empower youth around the world and that is what is going to help make the world a better place. But as Peace Corps warns, and many people assume, you can’t leave behind everything for 2 years and not have a selfish reasons as well, when things are not going the way you want them, when your students are acting out or project aren’t being completed, there needs to be something from your heart keeping you going. I have wanted to do the Peace Corps since I was about 8 years old, and this is my chance to prove to myself that I can do it. I just graduated college, and just ask my dad, every year I have a different dream job = I have no idea what I want to do with my future, Peace Corps is a great opportunity to take a break and find some direction while still doing something any employer will like. Most important to me I suppose, I’ve always wanted to visit Africa and there doesn’t really seem to be a much better way to do so. I mean, I’m not just visiting; I’m living in Africa.
I’m not really sure if that explains exactly why I am doing Peace Corps, but it is as close as I can get to explaining my inner thoughts and feelings about being in Peace Corps, I honestly think just a lot of it was a sporadic decision to apply and somehow I ended up following through.

What is going on in Africa?
Right now I am not a Peace Corps Volunteer, I am currently a Peace Corps Trainee. We are living all together in a village outside of Maputo called Namaacha learning the language and how to teach our respective subjects. In Barrio (Neighborhood) A & B are the Biology and Chemistry teachers. We have teaching class together at the Biology Hub. About a 30-45 minute walk away is the neighborhood where the Math and English teachers live, they have their own teaching classes. While here, we live with host families to help learn the customs and chores of Mozambique. Come December, following our swearing in, we will all be split up around the country and sent to our sites where we will begin teaching. That is when my actual 2-year commitment begins. Until then it is just like being back in school. At least I have the friends and hang out spots to match the college life so we can unwind after busy days.
We’ve been learning a lot, some of it things that are fairly hard to deal with. Most recently we have been introduced to the corruption in the school systems here and many of the difficulties of teaching science here—technical heavy lectures, no labs, short classes, large classes—none of which are the most conducive to learning Biology. But we’ve also been learning a lot of Portuguese and have finally begun doing our practice teaching and making lesson plans in Portuguese. Some days I feel like I am not learning about Portuguese, but then I look at my Biology textbooks and my lesson plans that I understand and I realize I’m starting to learn the language! We’ve also been learning a lot about how to teach with limited resources and make the best impact we possibly can in our short time here. Though we may feel sometimes we aren’t making an impact of seeing any success, our country director said it best: “We are planting the seeds of trees of shade we may not be able to sit under.”

So here I am, living in Africa for 2-years, hopefully making some impact, but at the very least I am able to live by example. I am able to show up to class everyday and teach the best I can and make science as exciting as it should be to every student, and be an example to the girls that being 22 and unmarried and educated and working is a perfectly great way to live and should be part of their goals for empowerment.
I know I am in for quite the adventure, and hopefully my adventure makes a little more sense now.

So no more procrastinating, I have a Bible Study to plan and a lesson to practice and language exam tomorrow. Until next time…

Saturday, October 26, 2013


I share this blog with some who cannot see my Facebook where all of my photos are, so I have started a Photobucket. I hope you enjoy the photos as much as I've enjoyed taking them.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

10/20/2013: The End of the Honeymoon

Everyone else has gone down this road so I feel bad being yet another person stating the obvious, but it must be said. The honeymoon in Africa is over. It is still an unbelievable blessing to have this chance, but I’ve hit a wall. Life is just getting a little real. We are starting to write lesson plans in Portuguese without feeling fully prepared to do so. Our families are starting to be a little much—I love my family but me going into my room in the evening does not mean I hate you…It means I’m an American living in Africa without my family and friends.
Today was particularly hard to be away from home because it is my very best friend’s birthday and it became so real to me that I’m going to be gone for 2 years but life in America doesn’t get paused. It’s just a weird realization. Thank God for the people here. My Lingua group is the absolute best. We laugh literally the entire day but are also there to support each other when one of us just needs to say “Chega Africa!” And I am absolutely grateful to have a Bible study with some other trainees. Those girls really help me spend time with the Word and remember that we are here for a reason regardless of what is happening in America this is where we are supposed to be.
All that real stuff said…I have some funny stories now.
On Tuesday, we got domesticated in Namaacha. We had a cooking day with our maes where we cooked Mozambician food and American food. For our American dish we made stuffed peppers…well we learned fairly quickly that Mozambicians do not like their food inside other food, which I had kind of guessed from having eaten here the past few weeks. But WE enjoyed it. It was frustrating to keep being told by our maes that we don’t know how to cook when really we do, we just don’t know how to cook Mozambician food, but it was still a really great experience and I think just about everyone here thoroughly enjoyed the break from typical lingua class and the opportunity to learn some Mozambician recipes.
Sara crushes some corn meal 
Shredding some coconut

Nick sifts flour

Minha familia
On Saturday, We visited with a traditional medicine doctor on Saturday. He sacrificed a chicken and blessed us for good luck for the next 2 years. It was really cool to be able to be apart of such a honored and important tradition here in Mozambique.
Learning about traditional medicine
Preparing the sacrifice chicken
After the ceremony, we wandered to “Shopright”…there isn’t really a way for me to describe Shopright if you haven’t experienced it, so I apologize. But it is outside and it’s a bunch of little stands selling just about anything you think you need (capulanas, food, shoes) and things you don’t want (monkey hands and fish skins). But they have the BEST little alley of chicken stands that sell platters of ¼ chicken grilled, xima (also…hmmm…it’s like grits, but not also EXTREMELY filling. PS pronounced “chee-ma”), and tomato salad. Shopright only exists on Wednesdays and Saturdays so we go whenever we can to stuff our faces with the chicken. So, now I can tell my story after that introduction. My lingua class (consists of me, Salome, Sara, Joe, and Nick) plus a couple other friends walked to Shopright from the Peace Corps office…about a 45 minute walk, but it’s close to where we science teachers live (thank God). On the way, we passed my favorite bakery with the best warm bread…BEST BREAD. So I get some and we discover these little soy nuggets, so I stuff some soy nuggets into my loaf of bread and eat it. My friend then bets me a Fanta that I can’t eat my chicken platter after (mind you, I usually at home eat about a yogurt and an apple and that’s it and I haven’t eaten much more here) so I say “Challenge Accepted” well…I do. At the end, Sara still has a plate of xima so Salome…”If you eat Sara’s xima, I’ll buy you a second Fanta” “Challenge Accepted” so I do…well. My lingua group decides to go to Casa de Dois, a bar by the Science Hub. While we’re sipping our drinks my friend Joe whips out a pack of Maria Cookies (I guess they’re kind of like Trefoil Girl Scout Cookies only not AS delicious. And they’re fairly large. And pack has about 30 in them I think) “Jessie. If you can eat this WHOLE THING I’ll buy you 2 Hunter Ciders “Challenge Accepted” So now I’m sitting on promises for 2 Fantas and 2 Hunter Ciders!!! Although I paid the price big time. My stomach has been hurting ever since and my host mom keeps trying to feed me MORE FOOD and I just can’t. At all.

Needless to say, the honeymoon is over. Today I managed to wash my clothes in pouring rain while freezing and our power is pretty much hit or miss because the rains of come and I STILL haven’t figured out how the heck Mozambicans manage to stay so clean in the rainy season! But we have each other, and that’s enough for Africa.
Maria cookies

Greetings from Africa

Thursday, October 17, 2013

10/14/2013: Chega??

At first, I thought this weekend was potentially a weekend from hell (excuse my French). A cold has decided to take up residence in my chest and it makes life fairly miserable when I’m busy all day everyday. I didn’t want to do anything that was required of me. My language barrier with my mãe ruined all of my hopes and plans for the weekend and chores as simple as washing clothes here are actually secretly daylong workouts. I just took a step back and realized this is Africa, I’m in Africa and things are weird and sometimes I just sort of wander around having no clue what’s going on but I need to embrace it all.
Saturday was Dia do Profesor. We went to the Secondary School in Namaacha (at 6:30 am because they said there would maybe be a parade after…it’s Africa…things are random here and sometimes happen but sometimes don’t…it didn’t) to help clean the school with some students. It was pretty cool to be able to spend some time around a school and help with some beautification. I wish we had been able to do more.

Upon returning home, with my nose dripping all over the place and my head pounding, I was ready to crawl into bed. But my mãe was awaiting my arrival. It was time to learn how to do laundry. My God laundry here is a CHORE, legitimately, though I’m fairly sure my clothes have never been cleaner, they got quite the scrubbing and soaking thanks to my strong arms.
Sunday, I woke up feeling the worst I have felt since arriving here in Africa. Now, when I’m sick, I am 1. A big baby 2. Really grumpy and dislike people. But here, alone time is considered very strange. One doesn’t just sit in their room all day, sick or not. So my friend and I decided to follow through with our plan to make gumbo…cue language barrier frustration aka the straw that broke the camel’s back. We told my mãe many times that this was MY recipe and WE were going to make it. Naturally, I needed her assistance killing the chicken, and of course my other Bio teacher friends were more than willing to help me dissect said chicken. But after that, Salome and I felt we had the gumbo under control…but instead our food got cooked Moçambiquian style. I was fed up. I literally ran with my backpack and all of my books to the Science House (Biology Hub) to hide. And then I realized, my mãe didn’t know I knew how to cook. I don’t have the language skills yet to quite fully convey to her that I cook in America, it’s just very different so I need help with little tasks…like how the hell do I clean the intestine of a chicken and prepare the head for cooking?? But that doesn’t mean I don’t know how to cook food. So really, I’m not frustrated with my mãe, I’m frustrated with myself and the slow pace of learning a new language.

…I’m still craving some actual alone time. But I’m about to have 2 years of plenty of alone time so I’ll enjoy having a family while I can.
It’s amazing how here, the simple things…like walking to the little gas station that’s super far away and buying a bar of chocolate with my friends and laughing hysterically the whole way, can make things seem a whole lot better. We’re all in the same boat, but at least we have each other.

I have some lesson plans that will just simply not write themselves and speaking too much English makes me forget the little Portuguese I do have in my head. So até já!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

10/6/2013: It's Happening

It’s been a busy few days. Yesterday we took a class field trip Maputo. I have to tell you, it is very overwhelming to be in a crowded city when you don’t speak the language. I was very happy to get home and try some Cider (turns out I like Cider when it’s made in Africa…) and relax in quiet Naamascha.
To unwind and get some exercise (let me tell you, a girl can only eat so much bread and rice before really needing to get out and do something about it), we hiked out to some waterfalls. Naturally, it is the dry season and none of us considered that they would in fact not be exciting, but we gave it a try. It was still gorgeous, and just absolutely refreshing to EXERCISE.
That isn’t the big news though, I don’t think.
I had a two-hour conversation with my Mae in PORTUGUESE. It’s happening. Very slowly but surely I am learning some Portuguese. It helps that my Mae has officially banned English from our house so I can learn it faster and will sit for 2 hours to have a 20-minute conversation while I act out verbs to learn and speak slowly.
Pouco a pouco. 

10/2/2013: I Officially Live Here

For our afternoon class, we experienced “Shop Right.” In Maputo, Shop Right is like a Giant or a Safeway. In Namaacha…”Shop Right” is an open air giant market that only exists on Wednesdays and Satrudays. It is crowded and hot, but it was great to see everyone and see the market. I got 2 capulanas—BEAUTIFUL fabrics used for EVERYTHING – clothes, rugs, drapes, towels, whatever.
That’s 1 reason I live here now.
Reason 2:
Chapa ride. Chapas are basically crowded van taxis. I thought rickshaws in India were nerve wracking…oh no. But the experience was hilarious and I now officially feel like I live in Moçambique.
I bought fresh, warm pâo…I’m addicted…and played with so many babies today. THE BEST. We even learned a secret handshake from some random kids on the street in the barro. Simple days don’t get better.
I’ve also never been so clean in my life. THREE BATHS A DAY! Cleanliness is muito importanté.