Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

-Robert Frost-

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Goodbye to you / Goodbye to everything I thought I knew

So here we are. Two years later.

In a way, I thought this day would never come, that I would never cross the finish line, never be on the other side looking back.

Now here it is, I hold my RPCV title like a badge of honor and yet...I feel like I'm mourning. This is it, isn't it? It's the end of an era, the chapter of this book is done, and I know it had to end sometime but that still doesn't make it easy.

I'm not the same girl I was when I arrived in Mozambique two years ago. How could I be? I've experienced so much, learned so much, changed so much,struggled so much, loved so much.

I fly out tomorrow ("Leaving on a jet plane...") and I can't even believe it.  I don't know if I'm ready. It's terrifying, it's overwhelming, it's just a whole mixed bag of emotions. I know that my family and friends are excited to see me. I know that I have so much waiting for me in the U.S. I know that the next phase of my life will be another exciting adventure. (By the way, you can follow my readjustment blog: USAmbique.) I know, I know.
I'm not ready to leave but I know I can't stay.

There are things I won't miss about Mozambique but above all, there are things I will miss because the memories and relationships I've created here are worth a million times the heat, the ATM lines, the public transportation system, the faulty electricity, and all the other mundane frustrations of life in a third world country.

I love you, Mozambique. Thank you for an amazing Peace Corps experience. I hope you bring to other currently serving and future PCV's as much happiness as you've brought me. I'm the luckiest girl in the world to have had the opportunities and experiences I've had. And who knows? Maybe the road will one day lead me back here.

Remember me like I'll always remember you. 


Sunday, October 7, 2012


In the past two years, I've been through so much. As I close out my final day at site, I continue to reflect on my time in Mozambique. Here are some of the things I've learned over the past two years:

- To appreciate a freshly raked quintal. You don't even know how much work goes into raking the sand into pretty patterns at the crack of dawn.
- The art of mandar-ing children to do things I'm too lazy to do, like buy bread at the market.
- That mangoes might just be the fruit from the Garden of Eden. There's nothing more delicious on a hot day.
- That double ply toilet paper is luxurious. Enough said.
- That high speed internet is a blessing, and life is possible without YouTube.
- That patience is indeed a virtue, and a necessity in Africa. I'm talking about meetings, ATM lines, bank trips, ordering food at a restaurant, everything.
- That personal space is a first-world concern and being crammed into a chapa with 20-25 other people is no big deal.
- That standing in the back of a rickety pickup truck with 40 other people, while uncomfortable and terrifying, is sometimes the only way to get where you need to go.
- That African children are so creative despite their lack of resources. Wire trucks and plastic bag kites? Recycling at its best.
- That these children will do anything for the chance to color.
- That anything I don't want to be collected out of my trash pit needs to be burned immediately. (See previous blog post)
- To tolerate or otherwise defeat a variety of pests including lizards, bats, rats, cockroaches, ants, spiders, and scorpions.
- How to get somebody's attention by hissing at them.
- To diffuse the advances of creepy men in Moz.
- That busting out a few phrases of local language at the perfect time, will make people's day.
- That no matter what I do, I'm the crazy mulungu so I might as well take pride in it.
- That I'll never be able to scrub stains out of my clothes as well as my empregada can.
- That it is impossible to keep sand out of my house.
- That African women are amazing! They can carry heavy-ass things on their heads for long distances without even breaking a sweat, and do all the housework while the men sit around.
- That because of these gender inequalities, Mozambican girls have no self esteem and no awareness of their full potential. They don't just have to grow up to be mothers and domestic slaves.
- That the way things should work aren't necessarily the way things do work and that it's not up to me, as an individual, to change things.
- That Mozambicans don't call me Chinese or Japanese to be offensive, they just don't know geography.
- That marriage and fidelity mean nothing in this country.
- That HIV still carries so much stigma, and nobody talks about it.
- That corruption is omnipresent (in schools, in the government, in the workplace...)
- That there is a huge job shortage in Mozambique, and well-qualified, hard-working youth remain unemployed because there is no job turnover.
- That family relations in Africa are complicated.
- That killing, plucking, and preparing a chicken is a lot of work. I'm really going to appreciate being able to buy pre-packaged chicken at the grocery store.
- That Mozambicans are so generous with everything they have even if they don't have much.
- That when somebody offers you a chair and food, it's impolite not to accept.
- That I'll never truly understand what it means to be poor.
-That the color of my skin automatically provides me infinite advantages in life.
- That death is a part of life. Children here die of malaria, malnutrition, so many things that would be unimaginable in a first-world country.
- That when Mozambicans schedule something, they really mean two hours later than what they say.
- That when somebody calls you and then hangs up on the first ring, it's because they're cheap and want you to call them back using your phone credit.
- That sometimes, it's necessary to take more than one bath a day. Or skip work and just sit in front of the fan.
- That "truth" is not always a black and white concept.
- That people will complain about the weather no matter what.
- That I've spent a lot of time stressing about work and "productivity" when I should have been focused on building relationships with people.
- That I may not have changed the world, but I have changed the life of at least one person in my community.
- And that this is enough to make my time in Moz worthwhile.

Thank you, Mozambique, for everything.
I love you.

Friday, September 28, 2012

One week left...

What day is it, and in what month?
This clock never seemed so alive
I can't keep up, and I can't back down
I've been losing so much time...
-- Lifehouse , “You and Me”

One more week left in Chicumbane and I can't even believe it, I don't even know where the past few weeks have gone.
I've been spending my time at home (doing Peace Corps close-out paperwork and reports, cleaning out my house, and dividing up my possessions), and at work (not exactly working, just hanging out with my coworkers.)
My mood changes by the hour, my mindset by the day. Little things will set me into tailspins of joy or fits of depression. Looking at the calendar throws me into a panic. Sometimes I don't know how I could possibly leave Mozambique. Other times I would love nothing more than to hightail it out of here asap.

Last week, I spent an afternoon cleaning out my room and tossing stacks of old paperwork into the trash pit. Because the day was warm, I decided to hold off on burning the trash (my new hobby, by the way) until the evening. A group of children soon came to my door begging to color but, as I reminded them for the millionth time, coloring days were only Saturday and Sunday and we were still in the middle of the week. I went back in the house, but happened to look out the window just in time to see the oldest of the kids retrieving a giant stack of paper from my trash pit. “Leave that!” I shouted, which startled the group of children and sent them sprinting out of the yard with my papers in hand. I threw on my flipflops and raced after them, only to find the entire street littered with my trash. It appeared to have rained Vivienne personal documents all over the sandy streets of Chicumbane: ATM receipts, shopping receipts, Peace Corps paperwork, basically everything I don't want the entire world to see. So I spent the next half an hour doing a one-woman trash pickup, fuming about the absurdity of having to throw away my trash TWICE. As I lit the trash pit on fire, all I kept thinking about was how much I wanted to be in America, with air conditioning, and a paper shredder.

Colleen's birthday was last week and we were both convinced that the jovens would try to give her a CACHES “baptism” - a ritual that involves being held down and having a big bucket of cold water poured over your head, and the reason that I've kept my birthday a secret for the past two years (although I fully anticipate receiving one at my goodbye party next Wednesday). Colleen and I spent the evening in a high state of paranoia, because it was clear the jovens were up to something, huddled in the corner whispering to each other. We kept reminding them that they needed to practice their English Theatre piece, which they assured us they would. Finally, three of the boys entered onto the stage but we immediately sensed something was off... It only took Colleen a few seconds before she leaned over and gasped, “I think that's supposed to be you! And that's me!” And indeed, the boys were dressed as us- fake Vivienne had on a short skirt and a bow tied around his head and fake Colleen was wearing a long skirt and had a shoulder bag slung around his arm, from which he kept taking out a water bottle and sipping. The jovens then reenacted Colleen's entire first day at CACHES, mimicking our mannerisms to a frighteningly accurate degree. Colleen's character kept looking around with wide eyes and murmuring, “Que interestante!” (How interesting!), and constantly asking, “O que disse?” (What did he say?- a gentle stab at her Portuguese comprehension skills). Fake Colleen kept leaning over to fake Vivienne (who, by the way, was sitting with legs crossed in a girly manner and kept hugging everyone and exclaiming, “I miss you!!”) to speak in fast garbled English.
The real Colleen and the real Vivienne, meanwhile, had tears rolling down their faces from laughing so hard. At the end the boys sang happy birthday and all of them busted out the “Colleen dance move,” something she had taught them a few weeks back and that they had obviously been practicing.
The entire presentation was of those things in which words could never do full justice. Colleen and I chuckled about it the entire way home, and the entire next day as well. I felt so much love for the jovens for thinking of such a unique and hilarious birthday gift. How could I ever go, knowing that I may never see their beautiful faces again? Sometimes I just want to hug them and never let go.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The roller coaster

It's hard to keep up the semblance of normality when I know I'll be leaving in just a few weeks. But the world keeps turning and all I can do is prepare myself for the changes ahead. People keep asking me what I'm going to do after Peace Corps but I don't even want to think that far. Leaving is the first step and I can only take things one at a time.

I look back on the past two years and I can almost map the roller coaster ride that has been my Peace Corps service.

There were the months I came this close to giving up and going home, there were the days I cried and cried out of frustration and loneliness, and wondered why I even came to Africa. There were the nights I tossed and turned, couldn't sleep for all the muddled thoughts running through my head and all the strange noises overhead. There were the times in which I felt unused, unneeded, unappreciated. There were the days I wanted to hit my head repeatedly against the wall for everything that is wrong with this country.

There, then, were the points in my service in which I picked myself up, grit my teeth, got back in the game. The moments I just had to laugh at myself for being the crazy mulungu, had to accept that I'm the community spectacle no matter what I do. The realization that those infinite small accomplishments are accomplishments just the same. There were definitely the times that I felt welcomed, felt accepted, felt loved, felt needed, and those moments in which the beauty of this country and the heart of its people took my breath away.
And these latter moments, despite sometimes being few and far between, are what have made my entire two years in Mozambique worthwhile.

I know other PCV's in my group who are burnt out, over it, ready to go home. And I'm glad I don't feel that way. It tells me that I haven't been in Mozambique too long, and that I will be look back with fondness on my experience. All of this is not to say that I'm not excited to go home. I haven't stepped on American soil in over two years and I might just step off the plane and kiss the ground out of sheer joy of returning to patria amada, terra minha.

I suppose you could sum it up with this line in a Lady Antebellum song: “She couldn't wait to get out but wasn't quite ready to leave.” I'm as ready as I  ever could be, to leave a place that has claimed a piece of my heart.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


Things I will miss about Mozambique
  • Speaking Portuguese
  • My dogs Mel and Magorducha
  • My theatre group jovens
  • Mandaring children to do things for me
  • Capulana clothing
  • Beach trips whenever I want
  • Having a flexible work schedule
  • Free time
  • The sound of rain on the tin roof
  • Hitchhiking everywhere (boleias)
  • Getting free veggies from my produce ladies (bacelas)
  • Sleeping under a mosquito net and feeling like a princess
  • Lighting the trash pit on fire
  • Giving people the thumbs up whenever I pass
  • Having an empregada to clean up after me
  • Wearing flipflops everywhere
  • My Peace Corps friends
  • Fresh fruit (especially mangoes, papayas, pineapple, tangerines)
  • Sitting outside in the shade when it's hot
  • Greeting everybody I pass
  • My host family in Namaacha
  • Getting 9 hours of sleep every day
  • Patio time
  • Meio frango (Grilled ½ chicken on the bone)

Things I won't miss
  • Sweating constantly
  • Dirty feet
  • Chapas
  • Sexual harassment
  • Being called “China”
  • People hissing at me
  • Waiting....
  • Work frustrations
  • Xima (the food, not the dog)
  • Camel spiders and big roaches
  • Rodents scuttling overhead
  • Lizard poop
  • Being the only one at at meeting who doesn't understand Changana
  • Being stared at
  • People asking me for money
  • Loud music coming from every house
  • Bucket baths
  • Volunteer Report Form (VRF)
  • Faulty electricity
  • Bank lines
  • How there's only “one way” to do things
  • Corruption
  • Running out of phone credit 
  • Mosquitoes

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Without you

" I can't win, I can't reign
I will never win this game
Without you, without you
I am lost, I am vain
I will never be the same
Without you, without you"
David Guetta ft Usher, "Without You"

I spent most of my service trying to keep up this strict barrier between work and personal life. I never went out in the evenings, never gave any indication that I drink occasionally. I was very careful of presenting myself in a certain way in my community, 24/7.
But the past couple of months, things have been changing. I ran into my supervisor at the club in Zavala and we danced for a while. Afterwards, he said to me in admiration, "I've never seen that side of you before!" I guess I'm generally pretty serious at work.
The previous mantra was: Be responsible, be professional, stay focused. But now that I'm so close to the finish line, it's nice to be able to "let my hair down," so to speak. I don't worry about my reputation; I think the things I have accomplished and the relationships I have cultivated will speak for themselves. And, I know the ones I'm close with will continue to love me despite my flaws.
I've recently started hugging my theatre group jovens hello and goodbye. Having always been a super affectionate person, I am not sure how I went so long without hugging them. (Just another barrier that's melted in the past few months...) I suppose I see them less as students now, and more as friends. More and more, I realize that they will be the ones I miss the most in Chicumbane.
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to watch the jovens in action during a troca that we hosted with another dance/threatre group from Macia. Another PCV and I planned the budget and did the shopping for the food, but the activities were left completely up to my theatre group, Grupo Amizade They did an amazing job hosting debate, icebreakers and games such as musical chairs, a lesson on the rules of theatre. I was so proud of them.
Last week, I taught the group the lyrics to the song "Without You" by David Guetta and Usher. (Oftentimes, the jovens are familiar with American "Top 40" music but comprehend little of what they're actually singing.) Later, one of my jovens, the one I'm closest with, hugged me and told me he felt that I deserved those lyrics."I'm lost without you," He said, and it almost brought me to tears. I feel the same way about each of them. They've been such a huge part of my experience in Mozambique. I'm not just their volunteer; I'm their neighbor, their friend, their sister. Every time I leave Chicumbane, even for just a few days, I think of them constantly .
Leaving is going to be so much harder than I ever imagined.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The troca

"In the end, I want to be standing at the beginning with you." - Donna Lewis / Richard Marx

I've commenced my 50-day countdown which obviously means that I have very little time left in Mozambique and even less time left in Chicumbane. As a result, I am remarkably busy and exceptionally emotional. I'm pretty sure that my replacement Colleen thinks that I'm crazy. I tend to freak out at least once a day, especially when I glance at the calendar. Sometimes I have to stop and catch my breath, realizing that my time here is coming to a close and that soon I'll be leaving all the familiar faces and sights that surround me.
Having a replacement is kind of a strange thing but so far, everything's gone smoothly. Helping Colleen set up her house and get introduced around the community brought back memories of my first few weeks at site. The difference being, I didn't have anyone there with me to help figure things out.
However, there's pros and cons to both. There are so many things that cannot be taught, but must be learned. Well, she has plenty of time ahead of her. (The question is: Where has all my time gone?)
All in all, I'm glad I've been able to get to know her and support her as she begins her two years of PC service. I care so much about my work and my community and I want to set her up for success. Hopefully, our dual presence will give her a head start in the workplace and eliminate the need to "reinvent the wheel," so to speak.
Plus, it's kind of funny to see the differences in the ways we view things, such as showing up to work on time, or the presence of unwanted critters in the house. Last night, she discovered her first rat in the house! One poisoned tomato and two dead rat corpses later, I give her much credit for having passed this Peace Corps rite of passage.
As she says, "we are at two very different places in our service." (By the way, her blog is if you want to follow the experience of a fresh new PCV in Chicumbane.)
This weekend, I traveled to Inhambane province for the annual Timbila Festival in Quissico. (Timbila = Mozambican musical instrument, essentially a wooden xylophone.) Approximately 20 other PCV's were present, and we ran an American cultural booth alongside a Japanese cultural booth run by the Japanese (JICA) volunteers. At our booth, we displayed Peace Corps posters and photos of PCV's working at their schools and organizations, sold jewelry made by REDES groups throughout the country, sold home-made jam and cashews produced by local CBO's, and made fruit smoothies tinged with the "miracle plant" moringa.
The JICA volunteers made delicious Japanese food, sold cool crafts like capulana wallets made out of recycled milk cartons, and taught various Japanese games and crafts like simple origami and noisemakers made out of toilet paper rolls, boxes, and soda caps, to groups of children throughout the day. Some of the female JICA volunteers even wore kimonos. Having been close friends with a Japanese volunteer in Chibuto, I've always respected the JICA program but seeing their volunteers in action this weekend, I was yet again impressed by how organized, friendly, and just all-around awesome the Japanese are. They really brought their A-game.
In the afternoon and then again later in the evening, both groups paused activities to do a trash pick-up around the city (a ton of people + no trash cans + hot day = LOTS of trash) and I was struck by what a strange and beautiful thing this was. American volunteers working side by side with Japanese volunteers in Mozambique, communicating in Portuguese no less, to trocar (exchange) aspects of their culture with Africans and with each other. It's amazing, really.
And isn't this kind of what Peace Corps is all about?