Estamos Juntos

I have been in Mozambique for three months now. I just finished my training and have sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer. I have been keeping a journal since I arrived, but I have yet to blog about my experiences. When asked, I have had difficulty articulating my reasons.

To start, how does one honor a place like this? I want to convey the beauty and splendor of Mozambique, but I am here because there are very real challenges as well. I want to discuss the poverty here, but I do not want to engage in "poor-nography" and typecast a people who are so much more than Americans realize. I want to be cognizant of the dangers inherent in Africa, but I do not want to dishonor the incredible friends and families that have opened their arms and homes to me.

I walk around, a sole white person, an American, and realize the awesome responsibility that I have. I may well be the only experience they may have with an American, and I must be respectful. People stare at me as I walk around. I paste a smile on my face and greet everyone with a "Bom Dia," "Boa Tarde," or "Boa Noite." I dress respectfully, mindful not to give the wrong impression by dressing shabbily or immodestly.

A note on this...Mozambicans are extremely proud of their appearance. They may not have much, but they make the most of what they have. Shoes are always polished (an on-going challenge, since there is mud and sand everywhere). Their clothes are nice, and I have witnessed many a young lady raking the yard in a dress I would have worn to a nightclub in America. Their hair is often styled neatly, or wrapped in a capulana. Something as simple as going to the bank, a business, or a government office requires closed-toe shoes and neat dress.

More than anything, though, is the community sense of "serviço." This is the simple sense of helping or serving others. You do not attempt to discuss business without first greeting a person and asking about their day. You are offered a seat and "cha" (tea) or "comida" (food) when visiting people. You are asked to share what you have, but they also freely share what they have. There is no understanding of selfishness or privacy. It is a concept that I struggle with as an American.

There is also no real sense of personal space. Riding on a "chapa" (a van used for public transport) is a challenging experience for anyone. They seat four people to a seat that honestly should only hold 3, then pack more people on top of that. Surprisingly, no one complains as the "cobrador" (money collector and conductor) squeezes ever more people into the chapa. They simply scoot closer to one another to make room. When you arrive at your stop, everyone dutifully moves around to allow you to exit. There are many cars here, but the average family does not have one, so people regularly hitchhike to get around town.

This is also the reason that time takes on a whole new meaning here. My German boyfriend told me once that the "Germans have the clocks, but Africans have the time." As an American, we tend to think that there is a lack of concern or respect if you show up late for a meeting or appointment. It is different here, though. One, there are very real challenges to moving around. It is a 15-minute walk for me to catch a chapa into town, then the chapa ride can take anywhere from 15-25 minutes depending on traffic or people we are picking up or dropping off. If I had my own car, I could get from my house to town in 10 minutes. Then, there is the fact that you must greet your friends and family as you move around town, and a simple hello is not sufficient.

There is also the fact that people - particularly women and girls, have many domestic duties regarding the house and children, and leaving without tending to them is not an option. In Southern Mozambique, it is a very patriarchal society, and domestic chores are primarily the responsibility of the women and girls of the family.

What is fascinating to me, is the fact that, at any given moment, I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. In America, I always felt as though I had a never-ending to-do list. Today, I woke around 6:30, made my bed, tidied up my house, made my coffee and breakfast, dressed and wrote in my journal. Around 8:00, I texted my "irmã" (sister) to see what time she was going to come by (the plan was for her to be here at 8). Instead, I went to her place around 8:30 (it happens - don't get too hung up on logistics here). We then walked up the hill to the main road to catch a chapa to town.

When we made it to town, I had to buy some things for the house. It is always a good idea to be mindful of how much I purchase because I have to bring it back home on the chapa, then walk for 20 minutes to my house. My irmã went shopping with me at various "lojas" (stores), then we finally made our way back home. It was a good three hours at the "mercado" (market).

When we got home, my other irmã came over, and we shared some "cervejas" (beers) and snacks - I introduced them to potato chips with cream cheese onion dip and medjool dates. Gradually, we got tired, and decided to take a nap. All three of us, plus their young niece laid down on a mat and napped for a few hours. Finally, we woke up and they went home. We have plans to go into the "cidade" (city) tomorrow as well, since there is a pizza place with a buy one, get one special on Sundays. I also forgot to get hangers for my clothes.

The important thing about today, though, was that at no point did I feel a rush or urge to do anything I wasn't already doing. I was enjoying the day with good friends, and just "being." That is the pace of life here, and it is good.

We are here in Mozambique under the PEPFAR initiative to help address the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Additionally, we help with malaria prevention, family planning, STD testing and education, and female empowerment through delaying marriage and obtaining a complete education. I feel that we have many ways that we can help here, but I struggle with the realization that we have much to learn from them, too. In integrating with this society that has embraced me, I have learned so much more about what life is all about. The answer is "Estamos Juntos"...We are together.

  • To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  • To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  • To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

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