Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Heatwave! This is my island in the sun...

I thought this kind of heat only existed in a place I never had to worry about going, praise the Lord. I was wrong.

I’ve spent Augusts marching on black asphalt in Texas. Nothin’. I’ve never been so hot in all my life.

I sit still in my living room, reading, not moving, and I can feel the drops of sweat converge on my skin before running down and forming puddles in funny places. There's a permanent gloss on my arms, my legs, and if I run my hand across it literally splashes off. And then I'm dry. For two more minutes.

I can recall ozone alert days in the states where David Finfrock advises you not to go outside if you can avoid it. Here, you drag a dining room chair outside to the shade and pray for a breeze because you’re simply baking in your house. The doors are open in our house from when we wake up at 5:30 in the morning to 19:00, when the mosquitoes come out. Our windows have screens. We don’t close them.

My favorite part of the day is when I "shower" by dumping cupfuls of cold water on myself. The local kids hang out in the Limpopo River all day, but we're not allowed to because of the funny stuff that lives in the water and in your skin if you swim in it. Boo.

Back home, I remember turning on my ceiling fan at night (I had a fan! In my room! Attached to the ceiling! And activated by an electric switch!) so that I could comfortably snuggle under my covers.

Here, before going to sleep, I shove all the blankets, pillows, anything else that might touch me to one side of the bed and sprawl out as best I can. Pajamas are unnecessary as well as undesirable. When I wake up in the morning, I'm already swimming, and my first thought is that I just want to guzzle a gallon of water. I’ve never worried about becoming dehydrated while sleeping before.

Keeping hydrated during the day is enough of a chore in itself. To have drinkable water, you must first pump it out of the well behind the compound, lug it home, boil it over the gas stove, let it cool (which, in this heat, can take up to six hours in itself), and then run it through the filter. In the end, it almost seems like a waste, because it hangs out in my body for about a half hour before it leaks out as sweat all over again.

What have I learned from all this? That I’m a wimp. The kids still run around and play soccer while Clancy and I try to remain as stationary as possible during the hottest part of the day (from about 6:30 to 5:00). The good news is, you get used to it! Once you accept the fact that you’re wet, you’re clothes are wet, and it’s simply going to stay that way, you move on with your life. And you don’t mind, because you’re roommate smells just as bad as you do. It’s all good.

Casa Sweet Casa

I am now officially a Peace Cops Volunteer.

I have completed training and was sworn in along with my colleagues at a ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Maputo on Dec. 8.

What this means, in layman’s terms, is that I’ve gotta get busy now.

I said my farewell to Namaacha, Mama Celeste and the family, and packed 26 people with luggage (including two guitars, a violin, a drum and a kitten named Bea) on a 25 passenger bus (it’s Mocambique…that’s high living…).

But, before, arriving at our new homes for the next two years, we were forced to endure a supervisor’s conference in Xai-Xai, the provincial capital of Gaza.

Here’s Jessica and I persevering through it:

The next morning, we all got on chappas and planes to cities (I use that terms loosely) all over Mocambique, which is roughly twice the length of California.

And I said goodbye to most of the people who’ve kept me sane over the past two months. It’s crazy how close you can get to some people in certain circumstances. Especially when they're the only people you have to talk to. Literally. I’m going to miss English.

But there are lots of people within traveling distance, so it’s not a complete loss. Jessica, for example, is in northern Inhambane, and I promised to make the seven-hour chappa ride to visit her frequently over the next two years. The fact that she lives on the beach has nothing to do with it. Kind of.

And, blessedly, I am fortunate enough to have a roommate – Clancy, a recent graduate in Biology from Maine, who (praise the Lord!) loves to cook.

We just moved into our new home in the teacher’s community of the Instituto Agraria de Chokwe. I am THE English teacher. She is THE Biology teacher. Together, we make up THE female teachers.

We are currently working on fixing up our house, not getting cabin fever until school starts, and settling into life as an old married couple for the next two years. We have accepted that fact. We’ve already settled into a routine of cooking dinner together, then doing dishes, then maybe playing a board game before going to bed at 9 p.m., because it’s not safe to go out after dark…and we wake up at 5:30. This is going to be interesting.

But we have plenty to keep us busy during the day. This includes the kitchen, the pantry, the living room, the spare bedroom, and our rooms. We are fortunate that we inherited this house from two other Peace Corps volunteers. However, we also inherited it from the five or so volunteers before…and with everything they owned while here.

When we moved in, the current residents were not very happy. Not one. Not the roaches living in the fridge, the termites decorating the walls in the spare bedroom, the granddaddy long-leg colony in the closet or the bustling bug metropolis thriving on long-expired care-package fodder from 2005.

I don’t think “overwhelmed” begins to cover it. For me, I knew sanity came first. And so, what did I do? Clearly, what anyone would do first in this situation: I arranged the bookshelf.

I cannot describe my joy at inheriting such a library. I’ve also selected a stack that will keep me more than occupied over the next two years, along with those I plan to smuggle back to the states, anyway. Among other things, our library includes:

  • The Economist, January 2008 – September 2009

  • 5 “Lonely Planet” guides to various African countries

  • 13 NY Times Bestsellers

  • 1 novel by TCU Alum Sandra Brown (“Chill Factor”)

  • 8 memoirs, 3 of which take place in Africa

  • “O Calcador de Pipas” (The Kite Runner, in Portuguese)

  • 5 Dictionaries – three English, two Portuguese

  • 6 books that were already on my personal “To Read” list

  • 3 Goosebump books

  • Go, Dog, Go

  • One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

  • Green Eggs and Ham

The final ones, of course, are for teaching English. But they’re here nonetheless. I’m set.

We’ve been welcomed with open arms into the community and the city. One friend in particular has kept himself busy as our personal chauffer for larger purchases in town. It probably helps that he’s engaged to the last English teacher volunteer, and is waiting on paperwork to move to the United States with her. We’ll be very sad to see him go.

I must say it’s been an awful lot of fun trying to be resourceful and make the house look decent on a PCV budget. I like to think of it as Survivor: Africa meets Martha Stewart. I’ll post pictures soon…if it works…

Sunday, 6 December 2009


Got my site! I’m headed to Chokwe, Gaza!

I’m fortunate in that I had the chance to visit during site visit and got the ropes straight from the ones who have been there for the past two years (Andrea and Sinead, I appreciate you now more than ever).
Chokwe is one of the larger cities in the Gaza province in southern Mocambique, and is on the banks of the Limpopo River (made famous by a few just-so stories by a certain author of The Jungle Book). The school site is just a 30 minute walk (or 5 minute boleia) from the city’s center, which has, among other thing, ice cream, at least three restaurants and Kellog’s Corn Flakes.
As far as living conditions, the PC house in Chokwe is high living – electricity, indoor toilet, oven, and, sometimes, even running water. To top it off, it’s got its own little library from years of bored PCVs. And an ata (cherimoya) tree in the backyard!
The teacher’s community is on site at the school, the Instituto Agrario de Chokwe. It’s an agricultural school, so there is absolutely no curriculum for English – meaning the only person with any say about what I teach is me (for better or worse…). Furthermore, the classes are mostly small in size – usually less than 30. My future roomie, Clancy, and I have already checked out the amenities, and we’re ready to dive in.

Here’s where I need some input… for the first month or so, we’re not supposed to leave our site, and school doesn’t start until a month and a half later. I already have big plans to explore, set up my curriculum and abuse the oven with every recipe in the PC book (when we visited, we made spice cookies and banana bread – BANANA BREAD!).

However…there’s no TV. No gym. No scrapbooking store. No Hobby Lobby period. Any ideas on hobbies I can pick up to pass the time? Something that requires very, very few resources? Any ideas are welcome and appreciated.


With all the decay and trash in the cities, it’s easy to forget that Africa, in its natural state, is truly beautiful. Thankfully, you don’t have to travel far for a reminder.
For example, a trip to the local waterfalls…

…or to the border Mocambique shares with Swaziland and South Africa…

Pine trees, palm trees, what’s missing here? Powerlines.