2 Months in Cuamba

 “I have no special talent.  I am only passionately curious.” –Einstein

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but not too much has been happening.  Mozambican students were on summer break until this past Tuesday, February 4th.  Since I’m teaching at a college with a different schedule, I’m still on break for a few more weeks.  What have I been up to?  Not much.  We’ve made a few friends, bought a few things, and continued to adapt to life in Cuamba.  We’ve been continuing to tutor some local children in reading, and have now met the other family of American missionaries in town.  We also visited one of the mission schools and had a great time playing with the kids.  We learned the Mozambican rules to checkers: pieces can move backwards or forwards, and kings are kind of like bishops in chess in that they can move any number of spaces diagonally.  It was quite interesting to play, and pretty tricky to win!

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A checkers board with bottle cap pieces

We also made friends with the children who live at the IFP with us.  We play “saka” (tag) or “chipe-chipe” (hide and seek).  They try to braid my hair, though that stopped after they tried to curl my hair around a comb but got it stuck… It can be a lot of fun, though it gets tiring when they’re outside our house yelling “Mana Sama! Mana Catia!” while we’re eating dinner.  We’ve become pretty well known around the IFP and along the road to town as the somewhat crazy akunha who play with kids and walk a lot.

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Our Crianças

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That was fun to deal with…

We’ve also become known around town for a project we may be starting.  We were approached by a friend I had met about working to improve the community between the IFP and town.  I brought up the grant Caitlin and I want to apply for that would provide books for a small library to encourage reading amongst young children.  He really liked that idea, and also mentioned how a sports/youth club and a preschool were also things the community was lacking in.  We came up with plans for a community center, and he took off running with the idea.  Before we knew it, we were scheduled to visit the church to see if the community itself was actually interested.

At 7:30 Sunday morning we headed to the church.  We sat through part of the children’s mass (in Portuguese) before he called us up to introduce the idea (though he did most of the talking).  We tried to make it clear that we are not positive that it is possible and that we would need help from the community to make it happen.  We did the same thing at the beginning of the second mass, which was in Makua.  The community seemed interested and receptive, so we are going to try to make it happen! Today we met to plan out materials and a budget.  We’re looking at having two rooms: a small library/classroom and a bigger meeting room/preschool/sports club.  It looks like it’ll take a lot of work and planning, but we’re hoping it is possible (though his dreams of an aquarium and basketball court may not work out…).  I will be keeping y’all at home updated as we continue to plan, and I hope it works out!  I will also be asking for board games, books, soccer balls, classroom materials, etc, so if you have old toys laying around or happen to see anything at garage sales, set them aside for me!

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The church, outside of which will be our community center!

Otherwise, life’s been pretty decent here in Cuamba.  We started interviews this week picking students for the English program, which will be a whole separate blog post.  We’ll soon be starting our Portuguese lessons.  Other than this, we haven’t travelled much—our main travel has been between the IFP and town.  The bridge we usually take got flooded a few weeks back, completely destroying it on the sides.  Right now people can walk along the edges if the water level isn’t too high, but cars can’t past because the road on either side of the bridge no longer exists- it’s just completely washed out.  We’ve been pretty lucky in getting boleias, or rides to town, mostly to the fact that we’re young, white females.

Caitlin and I get a lot of attention in and on our way to town precisely for this fact.  It’s been really interesting, being different-looking from most people around me.  Unlike being a minority or immigrant in a developed country such as the United States or France, being different is in my favor, and means I have to check my privilege a lot.  I was born a lot richer than the majority of people here.  Despite the fact that I am making less than a third of what my colleagues here at the IFP are making, I am still probably making eight times what some of the people on my walk into town make.  In addition, I don’t always have to walk into town because people notice me and, me being a young, white female, are more likely to give me a ride if I flag them down.  Because of this, it’s been easier for me to make friends with people who have more money and have cars.  It’s hard to balance in that I feel guilty—some of my friends in the bairros can’t catch these boleias because they don’t look like I do.  Sometimes though I just don’t want to walk into town… Because we’re white, many Mozambicans will drive us out of curiosity, and because we’re young women, older, white Portuguese or Cuban men who are doing construction and electrical work in town will drive us out of curiosity.  It’s significantly easier for us to get rides than our male site mates or Mozambican friends…

The attention has definitely been strange though.  As we walk through the neighborhood or along the roads, we are followed by shouts of “Akunha!”, or white people in Makua.  Children run out to see us and follow us around, shouting out a combination of “Salaama,” “Como esta,” and “How are you” in their staccato voices.  They aren’t rude, they’re just looking for some attention, and are thrilled if we respond.  Adults as well, will sometimes shout “Salaama” to try to throw us off and see what we say.  Sometimes we respond to them in Makua and they get really excited or laugh at us.  I don’t think we’re presenting a negative image because we do like to respond, but it can kind of be grating on us with people trying to test us or trip us up all the time.

It’s also morally difficult to respond to people asking for money.  I’ve been told not to give money from the beginning and then people won’t try to form friendships based on you giving them things.  In that way, you can choose when you give gifts and not feel you have to as a moral obligation to keep the friendship going.  On the other hand, I do have more than a lot of people, and I do feel really guilty! I’ve decided instead to invest money in things such as the community center that everyone can use and to try to get to know people and integrate myself into the community.  Hopefully this will help people to accept me and help me make some real friends.  I kind of have a host family in the bairro near our house that is teaching me Makua!

I’ve found myself having to be very trusting here in a new country.  If I ask for directions or take out my phone to give someone my number or get in someone’s car, I have to be able to trust them to help rather than hurt me or take my things.  It’s been a humbling experience, having to ask for help all the time, and I’ve definitely been nervous at times.  Overall, I think I’ve become a lot more open as a person, and I hope to continue to grow as I live here.  Of course I take caution and don’t completely trust everyone with everything: for example, Caitlin and I still don’t allow people in our house aside from our site mates.  After getting a lot of calls and texts and “I miss your face and your voice”, I’ve also begun prefacing the exchange of phone numbers with Mozambicans with an “I don’t want a boyfriend or husband right now, so don’t call me repeatedly” speech.  It isn’t entirely successful, but I’ve also gotten very good at ignoring my phone…  Because of this, we haven’t made too many Mozambican friends, but we’re getting there slowly and gaining a better fluency with Portuguese.  We’ve also met a lot of people just by being open to curiosity and willing to talk.  I’m hoping that once we start classes in 2 weeks we’ll get better at speaking, busier, and get to know more people!

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Portuguese word of the day: Trançar- to braid, not to be confused with Trancar- to lock. It makes more sense than the French…

French word of the day: fermer à clé- to lock, or literally, to close by key

Makua word of the day: kintuna (? I’m not actually sure how to spell in Makua, but that’s what it sounds like).  It means I want/I like/I need.

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One thought on “2 Months in Cuamba

  1. Caitlin’s dad and I are enjoying following your blog as well as Caitlin’s! We love seeing pics and hearing what you girls are up to! Can’t wait to see how your project progresses and hear how your teaching experience is once school starts. So glad Caitlin has you for a room mate, keep up the good work!!

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