Agenda of a Mozambican Meeting

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will get you everywhere.” –Albert Einstein

For any of you who were wondering what a typical Mozambican meeting is like, here’s your typical agenda (which can be applied to anything, though today’s topic was interdisciplinary teaching):

  1. Wait for the chefes (the important people) to come.
  2. Stand up to greet them.
  3. Sit and listen to a short (but not all that short) speech about how this is important for the government and you are important for the government and the future, then stand up as he leaves. Lucky for him, he only has to stay so long.
  4. Be greeted by all the other chefes and hear a short speech that doesn’t really say anything…
  5. The facilitator (one of the chefes) will introduce a colleague who will then introduce a topic. He will use good questioning techniques to begin his presentation, and unfortunately be thwarted by the fact that, just like in a classroom, no one really wants to respond to the questions.
  6. The Chefe will “teach” by lecturing, only including the audience by having them complete almost-completed words (ex. “recursos de comun…. Comunidade.”)
  7. Participants will ask fairly close-minded questions and then chefe will not fully answer them. (ex. What do we say to men who demand money after their wives helped us do our community project? Answer: we do what the community wants us to do.)
  8. Everyone will be split into groups in a really vague manner and won’t be told where each group is meeting.
  9. Give people 30 minutes to eat their snack of an egg sandwich and pop.
  10. Once in your group, go around the circle and share everyone’s ideas. (Ex. What animals are raised in your community? Goats, Chickens, Cows, Ducks…)
  11. Discuss ideas for over an hour without getting anywhere.
  12. Discuss options we won’t choose just because they are options, then argue about them (not everyone has cows, you know…).
  13. Talk in circles.
  14. Make a draft of our poster by first labeling it as Grupo 2 and drawing annoyingly straight lines using some sort of straight edge.
  15. Realize we don’t really understand the instructions and have them explained 15 times. Then still discuss exactly what we’re supposed to do.
  16. Run out of time and go over when copying the draft hurriedly onto papel gigante.
  17. But first, spend 30 minutes trying to explain to the one member who doesn’t understand.
  18. Start on a new topic after your allotted hour and a half has already finished.
  19. Finally break for lunch, and then sit outside since lunch isn’t ready.
  20. Decide to start presentations since lunch is delayed.
  21. Have a group present their work, then let other participants tear them apart for entirely unrelated and unimportant things (the draft wasn’t exactly the same as the final poster).
  22. The chefe will conclude the debate by re-explaining the points we understood and using English to try to seem impressive (It is time!)
  23. Take an hour-long lunch break, even though it is already 2:10pm and you are supposed to end at 4.
  24. Return to the unproductiveness of before, adding some more confusion with a skit about a car that has nothing to do with anything.
  25. Skip the rest of the presentations because we’re almost out of time.
  26. Bring that first chefe in again to give a closing statement to thank everyone (and scold them a little). We applaud even though we hated the experience and just want to get out of here.
  27. Fugir (make a run for it!) when you finally get out 30-60 min late, though not before the light has to be turned on because it’s getting dark!

While interdisciplinary teaching certainly is an important topic and I quite enjoy creating curriculums and lesson planning, it is difficult to work on the same level as 8 Mozambican school directors who have never used or considered this approach to teaching. Especially when they consider themselves to be above me and don’t value creativity in the classroom, it can lead to a frustrating day. Luckily my roommate and I know how to make light of the situation through lists and such!

Other than that, things are going pretty well! My JUNTOS group is planning on distributing mosquito nets, painting a mural, and participating in Peace Corps English Theater. They seem excited! I’ve had a pretty consistent attendance of 30-35 at my French club too. Also, I’m a new member of the Malaria Task Force’s Curriculum Committee, so I’ll be helping write curriculums to teach about malaria. My students are still excited and curious, and I’m looking forward to where the year goes from here. It’s already moving fast!

Portuguese word of the day: A tese (thesis statement- what I’m teaching in my technology class)

French word of the day: Rendez-vous (meeting between friends. It’s so elegant!)

Macua word of the day: Ebuku (book)

Flooding and Life Updates

“Love the life you live. Live the life you love.” –Bob Marley

It’s been quite a busy few weeks that I haven’t gotten to my blog post about flooding in Mozambique until now.

Near the end of my holiday, heavy rains in Mozambique and Malawi caused great havoc and destruction in both countries. My own town, Cuamba, was entirely cut off, as all roads going into the city were impassable. Many bridges in Zambezia, the provence below us, collapsed under the water, and the entire north of the country was left without power for a month. Over 100 people were killed and 157,000 affected or displaced with the heavy flooding, many still not in their own homes. A few of my JUNTOS kids lost their homes completely, which were just swept away by the river, leaving nothing behind. Many homes have fallen. It has led to an outbreak of cholera, which has unfortunately already affected many people here due to lack of water sanitation, and will most likely hurt the crop production, which is the main source of income for many people here. It is definitely going to be a tough year for the people in the north of Mozambique.


The street leading to town…


The house of one of my JUNTOS kids used to be here...

The house of one of my JUNTOS kids used to be here…

You can see how high the water was from the river that passes under our main bridge.

You can see how high the water was from the river that passes under our main bridge.

Here you can see the bridge I cross to get to town. At the moment I walk across the black pipe...

Here you can see the bridge I cross to get to town. At the moment I walk across the black pipe…

I was able to return to site in late January, and have since been preparing for the start of the new school year. School finally started at both the IFP and the secondary school this past week. I’ll be teaching English grammar, Technology (in Portuguese! Yikes!) and 10th grade French at the secondary school again. I’m very excited to work with my new classes, which are 40 students this year at the IFP instead of 33 like last year. The students have already shown themselves to be motivated and interested in learning English. At our first Saturday conversation club we had 14 show up! We’ll be doing a lot more individual and hands-on teaching work with them this year. At the secondary school, I’ll be taking my French class on a tour of the Francophone world, passports and everything! I’m hoping things will work out well with no resources, especially as I don’t even have a classroom, desks, or even a blackboard yet!

I’m also excited to continue with my secondary projects. My JUNTOS group is getting more involved this year. We’re on a mission to educate our community about malaria, and we hope to paint a mural in town, record a song to play on the radio, and perform some skits to educate about HIV. We did a malaria photo scavenger hunt last week, which was a lot of fun! We also started English lessons this week as well, something my group specifically asked for. I made them treat it like a class and everything! Our library program has yet to start yet for the year due to school meetings and rain, but we plan on opening up a second community library at the elementary school at the IFP, so I’ll be running a training for that in the coming weeks.

My first JUNTOS meeting of the new year!

My first JUNTOS meeting of the new year!

One of my JUNTOS kids teaching a woman how to hang her mosquito net during our Malaria photo scavenger hunt.

One of my JUNTOS kids teaching a woman how to hang her mosquito net during our Malaria photo scavenger hunt.

I’m planning on using this year to focus on myself and on my work here. For myself, I want to try to be healthier, expand my range of useless skills, travel, and have fun. I want to use this year to really reflect on who I am and who I want to be, where I want my life to go from here (at least at the moment). As for my work, I want to really focus on learning new teaching styles, observing other Mozambican teachers, developing curriculums, and working to improve the systems in place here. Of course, my students and their needs are the most important, and I look forward to encouraging a new group of learners. It’s going to be a busy year!


Portuguese word of the day: Pintar (to paint or color. The children are always coloring on our front porch)

French word of the day: Inondé (flooded)

Macua word of the day: Mahi (water. I may have used this one before, but at the moment it’s particularly relevant…)

Summer Holidays: South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Malawi, and Mozambique

“The basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”

This is a VERY long post. But hey, I’m covering a long time.

In all my time traveling in Europe or the U.S., I’ve never been away from home (wherever that was at the time) for more than 2 weeks. I think my longest vacations were the 2-week trips I took during my holidays in France. This trip, however, ended up being 6 weeks. Despite my obsessive planning, it didn’t turn out exactly as expected. Overall, it was fantastic and I got to see so many new places.

My trip began on December 15th when I flew to Johannesburg. Matthew met me there, and we spent 5 days getting used to modern life (on my part) and relaxing. My first night I had an avocado and bacon pizza, which was definitely a highlight. I also got to wash my clothes in a washing machine! They felt so clean! I don’t know how I’ll be able to handle going back to the states… We didn’t do much tourism, but we did go to the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, which was about the Afrikaans movement in South Africa. It was a really neat museum and a beautiful building. One of the neat things about it is that there is a hole in the ceiling that is positioned so that the sun will only shine through and reach the bottom on December 16th.


After Johannesburg, we went to Kruger National Park. We met Dione, another volunteer, and her sister at the bus stop and went to rent a car. We ran into some trouble when the rental place was closed, but we got it figured out and were soon on our way. We got to Komatipoort, a town near the border of Mozambique, and settled into our hostel with a few drinks and some intense games of spades.

The next day we left bright and early for a guided tour of Kruger. Our guide had been working there for ten years after leaving a corporate job, and he loved it. From high up in the safari truck we were able to see a lot of animals. Almost instantly after driving into the park we spotted a giraffe crossing the road, and then a rhino lounging nearby. We also ran into elephants—close enough to touch—water buffalo, zebras, warthogs, baboons and monkeys, hippos, gazelle, etc. Around 10am we got word that there was a leopard that had killed a gazelle and dragged it up into a tree and was guarding it. We tried to drive by, but there were just too many cars. We couldn’t even get through! Our guide promised it would still be there later, so we drove around and got lunch. On our way back, we passed a tree with some lions lounging underneath! It was far and difficult to see though. I’m not sure I saw anything, though some people in our group did. We made it back to the spot with the leopard. There were still so many cars parked, and really only one spot you could spot the leopard from. The car in that spot was being very rude and staying there, just taking picture after picture. We pulled up beside them and Matthew was able to get a picture of the leopard by standing out the window of the truck, but it was impossible to see on our own. At the end of the day we came across a giraffe that had been born 1 hour and 20 minutes before. It was running around and everything! Later we headed back to our lodge for a braai and some more card games. I guess you could say that we saw the big 5, though we didn’t have a great view of 2 of them.

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The next morning, we decided that since we had a car and were less than an hour from the border we should drive to Swaziland for the morning. We followed behind a Swazi tour that our lodge offered. Once across the border, we got to see a cultural presentation where a woman showed us a traditional Swazi house and explained some of the cultural customs. Afterwards, we had a seat and saw a performance of traditional dances and songs. It was a really neat presentation. We continued to follow the group up into the mountains to an art market. It was such a beautiful drive, and made me want to visit Swaziland again. Afterwards we had to leave to make our way to Kruger.

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We made it to Kruger a bit after noon and drove to the camp where we were staying. On the way we got very close to some elephants! It was fun to drive around on our own, but didn’t have the same touring effect. We got to the camp and signed up for a night drive, then checked into our cabin. It was a very comfortable hut with a fridge and everything. We decided since the camp store had meat that we would have our own braai for dinner, so we bought materials before heading out on our night drive. The drive was cool: you shine flashlights into the darkness to find animals by looking for the flash of their eyes. It was actually pretty creepy—it was so quiet! We did see some elephants, gazelle, and smaller animals, but nothing we hadn’t seen before. Afterwards we came back and had our braai complete with chips and wine. It was a good night. The next morning we had to head out early to return the car. Matthew and I headed back to Joburg for a night while Dione and Nadine went back to Mozambique.



On December 24th Matthew and I flew to Nairobi and then to Kilimanjaro. Our plane to Kili was so small and pretty empty. We got there at midnight, taxied to our hostel, and crawled into bed, probably disturbing the other volunteers we were sharing a room with. The next morning I was able to greet the 6 other volunteers we would be climbing Kili with. We got some Christmas breakfast at a cute little restaurant called the Union Café and did some shopping for ingredients for Christmas dinner and our white elephant gift exchange. We had a limit of 2000 shillings, which is just over a dollar. I got some Barack Obama playing cards.

The view of Kili on Christmas morning from our hostel

The view of Kili on Christmas morning from our hostel

Christmas dinner was started with the presentation of the Christmas melon. We had invited a 65 year-old PCV from that town and an Australian girl who would be climbing with us to join in the celebration, and they probably thought we were very strange when we sang the Mozambican hino as a tribute to the Christmas melon… It was quite a fun night, and the gift exchange included everything from necklaces to lighters to eggs. We took some silly pictures and enjoyed each other’s company.


The next day, the guys from Nyange Adventures, the company we were climbing with, came to check our equipment. Matthew (the only non-PCV) was the most equipped in our group, only needing to rent a water bottle. I had to rent almost everything. I was surprised it wasn’t more expensive though! After getting that sorted, we did some shopping and prepared to leave.

Matthew all prepared for his trip...

Matthew all prepared for the trip…

We left about 9am the next morning. Our group consisted of 18 people from all over the world—the 8 of us, 2 Australians, a Russian, 2 Italians, a Ukrainian who lives in Chicago, a Syrian, and 3 Japanese. In addition, we had 8 guides, 3 cooks, 2 waiters, and 54 porters, so we were a big group. When we pulled into the gate of the camp, I was surprised at how many people were lined up waiting to leave. There were so many, so we spent the next 3 hours sitting around waiting to sign in and watching the monkeys steal people’s lunches. When we finally got going, we had about 13 km of walking to do. The first day was nice. It was through the rainforest, cool and shaded because of all the trees. The second day we only hiked 5km, but in that 5km we went up almost a full km. It was a lot barer, and started to rain/hail right as we were getting into camp. I got very cold that night and was actually worried I wouldn’t be able to make it. Luckily with the help of some of the staff and a warmer sleeping bag I was able to keep going.


The third day there were no trees to be seen. It was very rocky, and a completely different landscape than the previous days. It was also noticeably colder during the day. Our guides insisted we go “pole pole,” or very slow, but we still made the 14km in about 8 hours (gaining 800m of altitude then loosing 600m). That day our crew greeted us with songs and dances, which was a nice surprise. We even had some time in the afternoon to play games. That camp also had the best latrines of all of them…

The next day involved some climbing up rocks, which was fun. It was amazing to watch the porters climb up the side of the mountain with 20kg of luggage on their heads and using one hand. The final day before summit day (day 5) we hiked up to base camp. It was only 5km, so we got there around noon. We ate lunch and went to bed. Then we woke up, ate dinner, and went back to bed. Finally at 11pm we woke up, put on all our layers, and had a snack. At midnight the mountain was ringing with cheers of people bringing in the New Year. We left soon after that.

Climbing to the summit was a lot harder than I expected. We were climbing up over 1km in only 5km distance. I was tired, it was dark, and I thought with the altitude, the dark, and the headlamps that I might just fall asleep where I was. I was cold and miserable and just wanted to give up, but I kept pushing myself. I finally got my energy back when, 5 hours later, we came to the second highest point, Stella Point. We stopped to drink a cup of tea brought by our guides and to watch the first sunrise of 2015 from the roof of Africa. It took about another 50 min to get to the peak, which is at 5,895m, or 19,341ft. It was invigorating once we got up there! There were glaciers nearby. It seemed really cold because of the wind chill, but it was so clear and beautiful. We spent some time taking pictures, and then went back down to base camp. It was a wonderful, emotional, and exhausting New Years.


The first sunrise of 2015 from the roof of Africa!


We weren’t done yet though. After a short rest and some lunch, we ended up hiking another 15km downhill to another camp. Matthew had a pedometer on his phone that said we walked 27km! We could have gone all the way down, and some of our group did, but we were so exhausted we decided to spend another night on the mountain. The next day we made it all the way down and were presented with certificates.


We had one more day in Moshi, and then left on a bus for Dar-es-Salaam. After arriving and getting cheated out of some of our money by someone who offered to take us to where we were staying, we settled down at the luxurious apartment of some expats who were graciously letting us stay there while they were on vacation. The next day we took a ferry to Zanzibar.

Zanzibar is amazing and quite possibly one of my favorite places that I’ve visited in Africa. It’s just so unique. A semi-autonomous island that was once a stop on the spice trade root, Zanzibar has it all: nice restaurants, tourist activities, regular towns and cities, other islands, history, and spice farms. We enjoyed our time wandering around on the cobblestone streets, watching kids jump off the pier and dive into the water, eating at the night market where food was delicious and cheap. One day we rented bikes for a few hours and went riding around the island. One day we went snorkeling off of Prison Island, a nearby island with an impressive turtle farm, and went on a spice tour where we saw how spices were grown and got to taste/smell/buy some of them. It was a lot of fun, and surprisingly affordable!


It didn't work.  We tried.

It didn’t work. We tried.

We had heard that the overland route to Mozambique that we were going to take was impossible at that time, so we ended up having to take an even longer route overland. We went back to Dar for a night, then flew to Mbeya, which is near the border of Malawi. We were able to cross the border and make it to Mzuzu, the largest city in the north of Malawi, before dark. We got some dinner, then hopped on another bus to Lilongwe, the capitol of Malawi. We got another bus to Blantyre, then a bus to the border of Mozambique at Milange. By the time we got to the border, we had been traveling for almost two straight days and I had said goodbye to everyone I had been traveling with except for Justin. You can imagine how mentally and physically drained we were upon getting to the border of Mozambique. Now imagine getting there 8 minutes after the border had closed…

We pleaded with the border guard to stamp our passports. He did, then asked how much we were going to give him to get them back. He asked for $50, which we didn’t have, so we got them back in the end for 5000 Kwacha, or about $10. We ran to the Mozambican side, but got there too late. The customs man had already left. We begged with the guards to let us through there, and they agreed to let us through if we left our passports. Seeing no other option, we did. We made it to Milange and stayed with a new volunteer there. Early the next morning we picked up our passports (without having to pay a bribe!) and were on our way.

We rode in the back of a pick up truck with about 30 other people through the mud for about 5 hours. Finally we got to Mocuba where we got into a truck saying it was headed to Nampula city. Eventually we were on our way. It was a slow ride due to some construction, so by the time we got to Alto Molocue it was already 5pm. Not wanting to drive in the dark and the rain, we got out there and spent another night with another new volunteer. The next morning we headed to Nampula, and then to Nacaroa, Justin’s site.

While there, I got to see his cultural group, which was a really cool experience. They meet almost every day to practice music, dance, theater, capoeira, and to work out. He led the workouts and they performed a dance for me, which was really neat. We also visited the nuns, who were really sweet and showed me around their school. We made some delicious food and drank good tea. It was a great way to unwind from 4 very stressful days of traveling. Afterwards I went up to Pemba to visit some friends who work at the IFP there. It ended up being a big group of volunteers. I had a nice beach day, and we spent a lot of time playing bananagrams. It was another relaxing few days. I went back to Nacaroa for a night before heading to Nampula to fly to Maputo for midservice.

Midservice was a good experience. It was the first time we were reunited as a group since we swore in as volunteers 13 months ago. It was awesome to see everyone, and doubly as exciting being in the capitol city where they have Thai food and French bakeries and grocery stores. Personally I found the sessions useful and had a good time seeing everyone again.


Finally some of us headed back to Nampula to wait for the weekend. There had been heavy rains as I was coming back that made it impossible for me to get back to site (thus why I was traveling for so long). The floods had knocked out many of the major bridges, completely isolating the north. In addition, it knocked down some of the pylons that supply energy to the entire north, so since January 13th there has been no electricity in the northern part of the country. I plan on going into more detail in my next blog post, but it was impossible for us to get back to site at first. We made it back this past Monday and I’ve been adjusting to life in Cuamba again. School starts next week. Year 2, bring it on!

Swahili word of the day: Pole pole (slowly or slow. On our way up the mountain, our guides were always telling us to go pole pole, or slow)

Portuguese word of the day: Chuva (rain. It has begun)

French word of the day: Retour (return, as it is the beginning of the school year or return to school)

Macua word of the day: Inowa (snakes)

Corruption, Elections, Thanksgiving, and What’s Coming Up!

“The best way out is always through.” –Robert Frost

I’ve been pretty down lately at site. I’m not sure if I’m just reaching that point in my service where everything isn’t just wonderful anymore, or maybe just the stress of school and work and politics is getting to me, along with the fact that I’ve been away from home for over 14 months. Although it’s been getting tougher, I expect next year to generally be better, and my tough times have helped me get back into positive thinking strategies and hobbies that I’ve dropped.

One of the biggest things contributing to my frustration has been the confusion and corruption present at my school. This was partly due to it being an election year and school being disrupted, but most of my last week of lessons were cancelled to make way for this. As a result, I didn’t get a chance to bid my students goodbye or leave them with my email, which saddened me greatly. I want my students to be able to keep in contact and practice their English, and some will not be able to. Luckily many tracked me down.

In Mozambique, before giving final grades they hold what is called the “conselho da notas,” which is basically a meeting where all the teachers sit and discuss the grades of individual students. Coming from an American background, I think it is ridiculous. A student earns the grade they earn, and no other teacher should have influence over another teacher’s grades. My ped director gave me a different view of the process; In his mind, it prevents teachers from discriminating against a student as revenge for something that student has done, or for passing a student who should not pass just because that student paid/slept with the teacher. It is rather more common in Mozambique than the U.S., which makes sense to me. I was not, however, on board with how I came out of the conselho.

The English class has 33 students and 4 teachers, two of whom are my roommate and I. We had had many informal talks with the other English teachers where we expressed concern over 5 students in our class who were struggling. Some failed to form simple sentences in English and are expected to teach English next year. In the end, only three of them failed, and they only failed my class. It upset me that the others hadn’t failed them when they were not at the level at which they should have been. What upset me even more, though, was how my Mozambican colleagues didn’t stand up for me when I refused to change my grades. They stayed silent while other teachers told me it was my responsibility to “help” these students and while my director promised that if they were actually incompetent they would fail the national exams. After a half-hour fight over the grades of my students, their grades were changed. This insults me because I feel now as if I taught for nothing. In any case, my grades were going to be changed, so why did I bother evaluating? It also was unfair to my students who worked so hard to improve that another student was bumped up 6 points (out of 20) just so she would not fail. A few teachers agreed with me, but most did not, and it frustrated me to no end.

In the past few weeks we’ve had testing. Sure enough, those students failed almost every subject. Many of our students had to retake a subject or two. The second round of testing, it was arranged that Caitlin and I were nowhere near the testing. We don’t know for sure what happened, but every single student in our class passed, along with most students in the school. It was strongly hinted by some students (who were too afraid to say it outright) that most answers were given. I was not in a good mood that week. I couldn’t believe it: how could they be encouraging this blatant corruption in their schools? Why didn’t they see a problem with it? I was constantly in a mind to throw things, and it was something my students and colleagues noticed. It took me a while to see how negative I’d become, and even then it was a struggle to step back and look for a better course. I had to do a lot of reflecting and meditation. In the end, it was a student with some simple pronunciation questions who brought the answer. I remembered why I was here: not to change the world or erase corruption from Cuamba, but rather to teach and work with my students as individuals and form bonds with my coworkers. Reevaluating my reasons for being here and redefining my life in that context has helped me to gain a more positive outlook here.

As I said earlier, national elections disrupted my classes a lot in September in October. The new president was chosen. During that time, however, the mayor of Cuamba passed away. Many people think that a witchdoctor cast a spell on him that killed him, especially since the previous mayor died in similar mysterious circumstances. Either way, Cuamba is currently in their campaigning time for mayor elections. These elections are actually more important to the people it seems than the national elections; I am seeing a lot more campaigning this time around. Our director is running as the ruling party’s candidate. As a result, he moved graduation to after the election so that the students can campaign for him and vote for him. We shall see what happens…

This decision made me angry, however, because I had already booked my plane tickets to South Africa for the 15th! It meant I would miss graduation. This made me very sad, so today we held a graduation party for our students. We sat around and talked, drank precious koolaid (they were amazed how much sugar was in it) and ate cake, they showed off some dancing and gymnastic skills, we showed some pictures, etc. All-in-all, it was a fun time, and I’m glad I got to see my students off. Many of them will make fantastic teachers.

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A few weeks ago we also had Thanksgiving in Cuamba. We made (from scratch!) chicken and stuffing (no turkey unfortunately), buttermilk biscuits, cheesy garlic scalloped potatoes, gravy, salad, and delicious mini chocolate pudding pies for dessert. It was a fantastic feast! Later that night some of our neighbors’ kids came over and we played with them. It was my 3rd Thanksgiving away from home. Hopefully in 2 years I’ll be there!


As for what’s next, I’ll be MIA for a while. Monday I head to South Africa. Matthew meets me there on Tuesday! We’ll get shown around South Africa the right way by Henco, and then we head to Kruger National Park to meet up with my awesome PC bestie Dione and her sister. After that, we fly to Tanzania where we will spend Christmas at the base of Mt Kilimanjaro with some PC friends. To continue the tradition of epic New Years, we will climb Kili and summit on New Years Eve/New Years Day! Afterwards we’ll head to Zanzibar for a bit and then I’ll explore a bit of the north of Mozambique before my midservice conference in mid-January. I’m looking forward to a lot of travelling and a lot of adventure! Wish me luck!

Portuguese word of the day: Batata (potato) it’s fun to say!

Macua word of the day: Oxekuwa (afternoon)

French word of the day: Pomme de terre (also potato) Don’t the French have a way of making everything sound pretty? Literally it’s apple of the earth.

My Experience in Understanding White Privilege

“Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. The grave will supply plenty of time for silence.” –Christopher Hitchens

In light of the recent Ferguson protests, I wanted to talk about white privilege. This isn’t about blaming or ranting, but rather sharing my experience with it and my own personal understanding; sharing my story and encouraging people to examine their own lives, because there was a lot I didn’t realize or fully understand until I came to Africa.

I was very privileged growing up. I grew up in an affluent suburb of Chicago. I had a family that cared about me and accepted me for who I was. I never had to worry about money as a child, and even if my parents were worried about money, they knew they could work it out. I identified as heterosexual and comfortable in my own body, and did not show signs of physical or mental illnesses affecting how people saw me. I had a fantastic education in primary and secondary school where I was able to learn how to use technology as well as take jewelry and filmmaking classes. I also went on to a great, albeit expensive, university and was able to finance it through scholarships, loans, and the help of my parents. Because of my excellent education, I was able to find jobs doing what I wanted to do in life—teaching—but abroad in places that allowed me to travel and experience new cultures. To top it all off, I’m white.

I’ve had a lot of things going for me up until now in this point, all of these privileges, but I never really understood them until I came to Mozambique, even with my Social Justice education. I grew up around people who were more or less as privileged as I was. As much as my university tried to be diverse (and in more ways than just racially), most of us were your cookie-cutter white Americans from the Chicago suburbs. And that’s not to say by any means that I don’t value my time there, or that the people who went to IWU all fit the same personality-less mold or are all rich white suburbanites. People come from a variety of backgrounds with different influences in their lives, different interests, and different passions. However, you can’t deny that walking across the quad at my university that you saw at least a few people with the stereotypical “frat boy” mentality, the mentality of the ultimate privileged person.

IWU has a Social Justice focus—that our students are educated to strive for social justice. In some ways this did open my mind to inequalities in our society. We discussed things like institutionalized racism and how poverty is a cycle that traps people, especially those with less privilege. I got experience working with students and student teaching in low-income schools where I worked one-on-one with students who lived in trailer parks, students who couldn’t afford winter coats, students who would go to the McDonalds to beg instead of going home after school. These were such valuable experiences and opened my mind to the differences in the way others lived and those who were less fortunate than I was, but it didn’t really make me think about my own privilege except in how thankful I was for what I had. It took quite a bit, in fact, to come to this understanding about privilege, not just in my life and culture, but all over the world.

I first arrived in Mozambique on September 26, 2013. I spent two months living with a Mozambican family that was accustomed to Americans and being within close proximity to Americans who had ideas and opinions similar to my own. We spent a lot of our time learning and exploring, and were quite coddled by the Peace Corps. It actually wasn’t until I got to site that I started to see how my race affected how people interacted with me, acted around me, and gave me privilege over not just Mozambicans, but also my black fellow Americans.

One of our first days at site my roommate and I were carrying a basket full of things we had bought home (7km from town). A car stopped next to us and asked where we were going and offered to drive us. That experience has happened many times. People go out of their way to say hi to us on the street. People have offered to buy us things before, and everyone wants to be our friend. A class I was proctoring for exams stood up and cheered when I walked in. Why was I receiving this reaction? I was white.

I didn’t actually think too much about it until reading a colleague’s blog. This colleague was an African American, and was talking about how people rarely stopped on the highway to give him boleias (rides) because he was black. Maybe they thought he was Mozambican, maybe they just didn’t trust black people, maybe he wasn’t seen a novelty foreigner from his looks and so they had no overwhelming reason to stop and pick him up. That really opened my eyes: here people were voluntarily stopping for me and driving out of their way to take me home.   All because of how I looked. They did not do the same courtesy for the Mozambican woman carrying 30 pounds of baggage on her head. People didn’t go out of their way to greet the beautiful young Mozambican woman walking down the street. It was because I was white and the stereotypes and privilege associated with that.

One time my roommate and I were standing in line at the train station waiting to buy tickets. We had been standing for an hour and moved almost nowhere from the end of the line. Next thing we knew we were being called into the back room where they sat us down in the air conditioning and sent someone to get our tickets. Another time coming back from Malawi, we were riding in an open-back chapa back to Cuamba. The driver pulled over about 50km in the bush and demanded that everyone pay. When we said we were uncomfortable with that, he told us that was fine. “You are white. I know you will pay. You won’t jump off and run like the black man,” he said. I can’t count the number of men who have asked me to marry them or told me they loved me, and when I asked why said it was because I was white. Even without realizing exactly why, these people realized that it is better to be white in our world and may even have some stereotypes of their own coloring their view of others.

Another good example of privilege in society here comes into play in the local language, Emakhuwa. In Emakhuwa, Mukunha means white person. It is not derogatory, but rather a form of identifying someone with light skin who appears to be a foreigner. Many people exclaim “Mukunha ola!” when I walk down the street- there’s the white person! It’s counterpart, Yoripa, which means black person, however, is seen as offensive and is not a word you should call someone. If I want to identify someone here by their looks, it is much more polite to say “Macua”, identifying them by their tribe instead of their race. It’s something I don’t really understand, but I know the rules.

When I thought about the effect of white privilege in our society, I was quite surprised I hadn’t noticed it and thought about it more. [White] people tend to get defensive talking about privilege, thinking they are being accused of being racist or their rights are being threatened. It shocks me that some people won’t admit racism still exists, or that privilege is made up. People try to back up their opinions with data, refusing to see that data itself can be flawed. Take for example the person who argued that more black people were criminals because there are more African-American arrests in the United States than other races, but ignores that African-Americans are unfairly persecuted because of the stereotype that they are criminals and more likely to be up to no good, which in turn perpetuates the stereotype and continues this cycle. Or the fact that 75% of cops in the U.S. are white, and people tend to have more sympathy for those that look like them, meaning that they are more likely to let a white teenager go for a crime but get a black teenager in trouble for the same crime. This by no means means that all cops are terrible people or that all white people are racist, but rather brings attention to the fact that we all unconsciously stereotype people based on how they look and that the stereotypes of blacks and whites, as well as other races are all very different. It also doesn’t mean we choose to have these stereotypes, but they are a product of the media we are exposed to throughout our lives, whether that be movies and television or the news. Nothing is objective, we need to recognize that.

Again, I’m not trying to call out whites for being racist or bad people or say that they should not have gotten the privileges they did. People tend to fear the loss of their privileges, which is a big reason why people are denying that racism is a problem in our society. Equality in no way means you should not have gotten the privileges you did, but rather means that everyone deserves those same privileges, whether it be a good education, justice in our criminal system, or a ride to town. This is not a fault of individuals, but rather a problem of our society to work on fixing, and one we should embrace rather than fear.

Despite being a minority in Mozambique, I have no idea what it means to be a less-privileged person in America. I am privileged in that my “minority” characteristic is seen as positive and gives me many advantages in life. I will never really understand how it feels to be an African-American, or to have institutionalized racism against me, such as laws that target me unfairly; communities where my teachers, doctors, and police officers are a different race than I am; not seeing my own race represented in my government; and being stereotyped negatively at first glance among so many other things. Despite not fully understanding, I am choosing to notice the racism that has become a part of our society and recognize that equal rights does not impinge upon my own, to recognize that everyone deserves the privileges I have had and that we are all human beings. Whatever you believe should have been the result in the Michael Brown case, you should at least agree that people deserve equal rights and opportunities, but that is not the case at the moment. At least recognize that there is a problem in our society, and although it will take time to fix and will probably never be perfect (because humans in themselves are flawed), each and every individual affects how our society progresses and changes. It is by recognizing and acknowledging problems, brainstorming solutions, promoting discussion and education, and giving equal representation to all people that we can become a greater people.

To end with a quote by the wonderful J.K. Rowling: “We’re all human, aren’t we? Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving.”

A Letter to a Friend

“I think that every person you meet you fall in love with. Just a little bit. And a piece of them always stays with you. So overtime you collect people, and maybe you don’t remember every single one, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t affected you. For better or for the worse. They changed you.”

Dear Kelsie,

I think you would have liked Mozambique. You always had a sense of adventure about you, whether it be flying to a different country to learn and explore or driving all over town at midnight in search of the movie Footloose to brighten up our boring Saturday night. I think you would have enjoyed climbing mango trees here with me. They make excellent climbing trees! And you would definitely enjoy the runs here. The sunrise over the mountains is just too beautiful to describe.

If you were here in Cuamba, I would take you to climb church mountain. It’s not a difficult climb, but once you get to the top your breath disappears just from the sight of the rustic village laid out beneath you. With the wind blowing and the sun shining overhead, it’s the perfect place to dangle your feet over the edge of the mountain and just talk for hours, just like we used to.

It surprised me—never really having gotten to know you before moving in with you—just how easy it was to talk to you. You were so open, generous, and accepting, and I immediately felt comfortable opening up and trusting you. I’m not sure I’ve yet met another person with your inner strength and character. You definitely influenced who I was and what I thought, and you have only changed me for the better. It was such a short semester, but wasn’t it fantastic? Our Clue-themed room kicked ass, and also became a gathering point for so many random shenanigans. Remember watching the Gulick-ians and commenting on those who left their curtains open? Or moving the desks around and just sprawling on the floor?


I knew I’d be able to count on you if times got tough. I’ve cried on your shoulder and you’ve cried on mine. I’ve never gotten anything but support from you. Even your last message to me was support of my being in Mozambique. I know that times got tough for you and sometimes you didn’t always feel strong, but you were definitely one of the strongest people I know. You have influenced so many more lives than you can possibly imagine, and you are truly a beautiful person. It’s so hard for me to think I won’t meet up with you next summer like we planned, but I hope you found the peace and comfort that often escaped you in life. My thoughts and prayers are with your family and friends at this time, and I hope that wherever you are, you know that you were really loved.

<3 forever in AOT



“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep, loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” –Elizabeth Kubler Ros

If you are feeling depressed or suicidal, please seek help. Sometimes all you need is some support:

Student Blog Posts VI: English Teachers, The Environment, and Teenage Pregnancy (unrelated to each other)

My name is Martinho .M.C. I am a man of 25 years old, Mozambican now living in Cuamba and doing teachers course. I like watching TV, reading books, listening to English programs, playing soccer sometimes, and my favorite dish is rice with chicken. Here in Mozambique we start to learn English in standard six, what is very difficult for us. Some schools in my country are facing problems of English teachers. One school is having one teacher for more than seven classes. It happens like that because our country has been colonized by Portugal and we learn English as a special language. English in Mozambique is very important to be learnt because it facilitates the communication with other countries around and abroad. But English to be learnt well in our country we need to start in standard one. I think it could be a nice thing to new generation and it is one way to develop the English learning system. Our country needs to learn more English. In this point we need well-qualified English teachers.

My name is Adamo R.J., the name Adamo but I am known as Day. I am africain nationality of Mozambican, Niassa province, district of Cuamba. The name of day atrvez of this arises child my parents chava me from daymilson and to emcurtar the name came to me day and pasted right too me because I sing. (I think he means, “The name “Day” arises from my childhood when my parents called me daymilson, nicknamed Day, which stuck to me because I sing). All my grandparents are alive and living here in Cuamba on the farm. My grandfather’s a tailor and my grandmother is a peasant.

I was born in 1990 in this district in the neighborhood of adine3. In this mean I have 24 years old. I live with my parents and three brothers with a baby sister, all of whom are studying. My sister is studying in secondary school of Cuamba in 11th class in the Medicine course, and my brother doesn’t live with us, lives in another district called Mandimba studying. He also is in the 11th grade in the course of economy, the third studies at Maguiguane.

My father works in the hospital as the laboratory technician. He calls himself R.J.S. and is a very good person. My mother is a peasant girl named M.E.L. and is a very caring usually, a few moments she is bad depending on the situation.

I’m a father of a beautiful daughter named Kelly. She is this year, she was born on January 6 and is 9 months. I have a girlfriend who is mother of my daughter, she is also very beautiful, nice, honest, respectful, that I love very much.

I am very fun. I am a young man of great peace in my heart, I don’t like talking too much less smile ideas from a friend, I am a young man who grew up making trips to my province alone. I’ve lived a long time out of my relatives, most of my childhood I made with my friends, I love to sing and play, until it was my dream to represent my district more by lack of support did not raise the dream. I’m a person who doesn’t like to be forced to do something I don’t want to.

Before I cast on this course I was a producer of music. I had my mini-studio that called sp Studio, I was charging 500 meticais (about $18) to artist who came into my studio to record a song, which I used to buy clothes for my daughter and some candy for her. Not all days reaching artists to write and spent barely these days because in sometimes there was nothing to eat at home, trust me.

But despite all this I never stopped being happy because happiness gives me energy and willingness to face obstacles and the sadness in some times I was showing. And I’ve never been sad when somebody told me, “no Valery get don’t like” I ask favors someone but two times and I like support, little have I share with friends. And I’m happy for my future family that I will have: despite being father too early I’m proud.

In Mozambique there are several problems for detect and resolve, problems of health, environment, political, economical, and others. One of several problems that exist I’ll talk about the problem of environment in Mozambique, nowadays the trees are already losing importance, the population as well as the government no longer bone goes to varus the environment. They say that because of the slaughter of trees that grow, they cut the trees to sell and sometimes wood, constructions and sell to foreign countries like China and others.

If we cut and replace the trees, it would be really good. I think this government is only interested in profits, not losses to the environment, like how the air we breathe comes from trees. Speaking of the uncontrolled burning are you too the population uses the slash-and-burn cassar animals and to scare away the animals on farms.

To end with this gloom, the government should encourage the lectures talking about consequences that the slaughter of trees has and the uncontrolled fires, talking about the importance that trees have, how they act in the life of man, and the reforestation should be seen as something serious. This is what I had to analyze and suggest. There are many problems to solve in Mozambique.

My name is Assane .M.M., son of M. M. I am in training at Belmiro Obadias Muianga in Cuamba district, Niassa province. I was born on the 14th of September in 1990 in Cuamba, Niassa, and now I am training in an English course in Cuamba, the district that I was born in and that my parents both live in. I have a brother and a sister; I am second born in the family.

I am going to tell you the issue of premature pregnancy in my country. I am going to focus on why it happens in my country and relate it a little bit with education, the possible ways to reduce and how government is involved with previous pregnancy in my country and some reasons for previous pregnancy.

In my country, most of the girls marry underage and eventually they get pregnancy very soon at the age of 14-18 before they finish their level, it happens because the girls marry because in their minds they think that marrying is the best way to alleviate poverty, when they live in poor family they look for a boy that they think this one can solve my problem because they see the boy changing clothes, each day they don’t ask about themselves where is this boy working and how does he get such good things. They go out with the boy and after he puts them in pregnancy, they decide to ask who is exactly this boy then they find he is a thief, then it’s too late to separate the love. Even the parents can’t do anything else. Our country, our government doesn’t offer high quality of education, in that it doesn’t motivate the young girls to go to school.

Talking about poverty in my country, that contributes to premature pregnancy. You find women with 12 children. It doesn’t allow the parents to take care of all the children. Consequently it’s women who need to have a better life, take other girls and her parents don’t have money, the only way to get money is to go behind boys to have sex and be paid to get clothes, goods, and other necessary things, and the boys of my country we are very sensitive knowing the girls look for us to get our money, we revenge then we ask for sex to repay or replace our money.

The best thing that the government could do to avoid it to happen he could ban night shift schools because many young ladies enroll at night shift schools where they can’t be controlled by their parents, and the government should bring and implement some rules that each and every girl or boy who pregnancyed before have at least 22 years old must be arrested and kept in jail. It should make us afraid or there are some places where people want to have sex, they go and meet many ladies with different prices these places are called at traffic light because when you get there you see a girl or girls coming to you to ask for money to exchange with sex to the best of my knowledge. These places should be sent policemen to forbid, those are selling themselves, and those girls would obey their parents and have a nice time to go to school to study.