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.