Sunday, February 20, 2011

~A letter Home~

Here is a letter I recently wrote to my family-I typed it up and am posting it here because I think it illustrates many of the issues and difficulties I deal with here and have yet to really mention in my blogs or emails, but it is very real, day-to-day thoughts I have while living in the midst of the HIV pandemic in one of the poorest countries in the World.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Dear Family,
Wow, I’ve been back in Mozambique for quite some time already but it’s strange because I’m just getting back to site and my house. I have been traveling around the province for a few weeks, helping as a translator for this project with traditional healers. It’s been quite interesting actually…and also pretty sad. Obviously people go to the traditional healers because the health system here is so poor and for some it’s many miles (without a car) just to reach the local health post-and then they are lucky if a doctor is even there! It’s just sad because the majority of traditional healers are completely uneducated (many can’t read or write) and can’t even identify common illnesses that NEED treatment, like TB, HIV, and many STIs. By the time the patient comes in to the hospital, they are in such bad shape it’s almost impossible to turn it around! It’s just sad some of the stories we heard from patients-one brought her sick infant to multiple traditional healers for two years trying to find out what was wrong with him before finally going to the hospital…poor kid! Another lady said she had pain while urinating (probably a UTI) for two years before coming to the hospital. I just can’t imagine living that way for so long! I think they just get used to always dealing with some sort of pain or ailment.
Then there’s the kids born with HIV… if a positive mother goes to the hospital and takes the prescribed ARVs and whatever other precautions, then there’s like a less than 1 or 2% chance the baby will be born positive and then it’s recommended to breastfeed for the first 6 months only and give nothing else, not even water, then stop breastfeeding at 6 months when they are old enough for other foods. This would never be the recommendation in the States, but here the powdered milk is too expensive and clean water is not available, however, most women don’t fully understand the 6 month rule and end up going longer and also adding solid food into the baby’s diet which creates a greater chance they will become infected. One lady told us how she brought her baby in at 6 months and she was negative (the mom is positive), then at 9 months she had the baby tested again and she was positive. It just sucks, it’s like they’re so close! If they are born negative they should stay that way! I recognize that the people here don’t understand the disease and how complicated it is and they are so poor that they have no other options, but how horrible to know the baby was born negative and is now positive because of you. A lot of times the women don’t get a choice but I just feel like it’s selfish to be HIV positive and still have children—you are giving birth to a soon-to-be orphan! Plus then you have one year olds on ARVs with parents forgetting to give them their medication on time or every day. Another Volunteer and I were just talking about it too the other day-that if you have an HIV positive child, how and when do you tell them?? How does the child react or think about life, about their parents?? It’s all so complicated! And the disease is so new, who knows what will happen in the next few years or how long people with it will live. Sorry if it seems like I was just ranting or going off, it’s just strange to have HIV be such a big part of my everyday life here now. And I think after a year, you become a little immune to it all, it’s easy to not realize how much it’s actually affecting me-it’s very sad, depressing stuff to see day in and day out.
I just got back to site yesterday and I tried to go running in the evening but was stopped constantly by people wanting to know where I’ve been and telling me they thought I had left for good. It was kind of nice to hear they care so much! Some even went to my maid’s house asking what happened to me. On the way back from the jog, the ten kids at the house next to mine where running down the road after me, chanting Ka-tee-ah, Ka-tee-ah! I told them to stop by the next day for gifts, so the whole gang shows up today in my yard—they about lost it when I gave them the little tubes of bubbles and helped them figure out how to use them. I also had pictures printed off for Christina (my favorite little one), it was so cute. They loved it! I had to practically kick them out to get them to leave finally!
I think that’s about it for me for now…headed back to Quelimane this weekend, it’s Carnaval—a huge festival in Brazil that Quelimane tries to a much lesser degree I’m sure! Last year it was mobs of people, some in crazy costumes, fried rat and snake on a stick, popcorn, drunk people..ya know, the usual!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Closing Remarks from Year ONE in Mozambique

In case anyone has been wondering, I am still very much alive and still in Mozambique! I realize after multiple months of silence you all deserve a much longer and more informative update on what I’ve been up to but this will have to suffice for now.
After a very busy three weeks in the States I’ve gotten back into the groove of things here, it’s hard to slow back down and get on track, trying to remember where I left off. The first month or two back was a bit difficult, missing friends all over again and also dealing with some site issues-I was hoping to talk with my PC supervisor here in the hopes of switching sites to my district capital, Namacurra, the town is a bit bigger than where I’m living now and there are a couple different groups that have asked for my support in working with them. The town is relatively close by but the dirt road you must travel down is so horrible and transportation so unreliable that it can be a full day process just to get there, spend a an hour or two and return, making it impossible for me to work with these groups regularly if I’m not living there. It doesn’t seem as though the move will be happening however, so I’ve tried to get a few project lined back up here in Macuse. This month marks one year in Africa and it seems so surreal how fast the time has gone, I’ve had to look back at old messages and through my weekly planner just to remember all I’ve been through over the past year.
As much as I wish I could work with the groups of children in Namacurra that have asked for my help, I’m trying to work something out so that I will still be able to at least meet with them once a month and get things going with my student groups here as well. This Friday is Global Hand Washing Day and I’m working with a few students at the primary school, teaching them a demonstration on the importance of proper hand washing, they will then do the demonstration for their whole school, we’re also working on a hand washing song…but I’ve already told them I will not be doing any singing! That part is up to them, aka-the more talented individuals! Also this week, on Thursday, I am having a small meeting/discussion at the health post for anyone that would like to attend. I’m going to do a presentation on HIV/AIDS basics and also give information on Anti-retroviral medication and how they work since often times the health post is so under-staffed that patients aren’t able to ask questions and gain a true understanding of the medication because the health workers are seeing and treating so many people per day.
Many of the challenges I’ve faced working in Macuse are related to issues I’ve had with the organization I’m working with here. I’ve felt a bit lost in what their expectations are of me as well as disconnected from the organization in general since their main office is in Quelimane, quite far from where I’m working. I also have not had a counterpart to work beside for many months now which has made it difficult to set up and begin new projects. I’ve been told that a few new local Mozambicans have been hired to work with us on the community outreach aspect of our work. Someone here in Macuse has been hired as well as someone in Namacurra, so I’m hoping to meet with them soon and get some feedback and help with projects I’ve created but had difficulties starting. I’m excited to hopefully set up more of a routine again and start some new activities. I’ve been here a year already and it’s still difficult to remember that things tend to move at a much slower pace in Africa, I am constantly being reminded of this and still trying to acclimate myself to this cultural norm.
Next week I’m going down to Maputo province to help train the new group of 70 Volunteers. I’m excited to meet the new group and perhaps this experience will help me realize how far I’ve come in the past year. I don’t think the majority of Volunteers give themselves enough credit just for the accomplishment of language learning and cultural understanding-you seem to just forget how much of a feat that is in and of itself because it becomes part of your everyday life here. It will be nice to be on the other side of this experience, finally the all-knowing, wise, and accomplished veterans…or something like that…

Monday, May 10, 2010

The bad news is: time flies. The good news is: you're the pilot.

Thursday, May 06, 2010
It’s been quite a while since I’ve written! It seems like time is just flying by so quick lately… I’ve definitely had a few adventures that are worth sharing! The more I see of this country, the more I fall in love with it. There are SO many beautiful beaches and villages; I can’t imagine it will be much longer before the whole country is turned into a major tourist destination!
I’ll back up to the beginning of March… All of us FGH Volunteers had a meeting in Quelimane with some of the staff including a few that flew in from Maputo. We were a little unsure of what to expect and were completely caught off guard when, in perfect Mozambican style, the meeting was suddenly pushed forward a day and we were notified about an hour before we were to begin! We scrambled to get ready and race down to the office with nothing prepared. When we arrived we began the meeting by going around in a circle and explaining to the staff what we’ve been doing during our first three months at site and what projects we plan to implement throughout our two-years of service. Doing this without preparation in-front of our bosses and in Portuguese was a bit nerve-wracking to say the least! They seemed to like a lot of the ideas I had for future projects and were especially responsive to my library project idea. The second day we were given the opportunity to discuss any issues or problems we have encountered. Many of the other Volunteers have had significant problems with their counterparts showing up for meetings and also a few issues with housing-such as leaks in the roof and fences not being put up, etc. All of us as Volunteers have also felt a bit disconnected from FGH and excluded. This issue seems to have grown in the last month or so and is going to be addressed at our next meeting in the coming week. FGH is still a very new organization and has recently added the community health element to their project, they used to do clinical work only and still have a few kinks to work out with the addition of the community prevention and outreach sector of the organization. We just feel our job description is a bit vague and it’s difficult to work with our counterparts regularly since for most of us they don’t live in the same village as us. It seems many of the staff members are unsure of our role as well and have a tough time knowing how to include us in their projects. For example, I have FGH staff visiting my site a few times a week doing mostly clinical work but there are also non-clinical projects or tasks that I would be willing to help out with if they would allow. I realize it’s a two-way street though and as a Peace Corps Volunteer we really must be proactive and identify projects we can assist with in our communities.
At the end of March we had our In-Service Training (IST) conference with all the other health PCVs and most of the education, it was great to see everyone and felt like a high school reunion you actually want to be at! Peace Corps staff went over some information on monitoring and evaluation of our projects and we also got to hear about everyone’s experiences thus far…quite reassuring to hear that others are going through the same struggles and challenges. The conference was in Nampula which is in the northern part of the country, it’s a fairly large city and theft/pick-pocketing is a major problem. One night we decided to all go out and about 6-8 Volunteers had their phones, wallets, purses, etc. stolen or taken from their pockets! Luckily I wasn’t one of them! I don’t think people do these things with the intent of harming anyone; they just want valuable items so they can make some money to survive-it’s a product of their environment I believe, not because they’re bad people. When IST ended on the 24th, I went with about 13 other Volunteers to Ilha de Moçambique. It’s a beautiful island in the northern part of the country about 2 hours from Nampula. One of the education Volunteers from my group was placed there and I’m now insanely jealous of her! The school she works in over-looks the ocean and is in this cute little town covered in old Portuguese buildings. We took a boat out to Chocas, an old Portuguese holiday town across Mossuril Bay. We stayed at Carushka in little bungalows on the beach. It’s such a beautiful place to relax, we were literally the only group in site the first night and pretty much had the entire beach to ourselves all day. It just amazes me how these stunning beaches haven’t attracted mobs of vacationers, tourists, and business development yet. There’s really no market or place to buy food there so we had to bring all our food and beverages for the first night. There’s a small bar/restaurant that’s only open Thursday-Saturday where we were staying so we went there the next night. After two nights in Chocas we headed back across the bay and spent the day wandering around Ilha. There are a few restaurants, shops, book store, a museum and a lot of great architecture to see and then we all ended up spending the night outside on mattresses at the Volunteer’s house that lives there.

After all that traveling I stayed at site for a few weeks, getting everything set up for the JOMA conference, talking with the professor and getting permission slips from students to travel to Quelimane. I also participated in one of TCE’s meetings, they set up a conference with the students at the ADPP school. All the students there will become teachers after they’ve graduated so the conference was to teach them about HIV/AIDS and how to incorporate it into their lesson plans. I taught a few games that help explain the biology of HIV and can be used before beginning a lesson. Most of the students were around the same age as me so it was a bit frightening to get up there and teach these games in Portuguese to about 40 students, but I think it went well and they seemed to understand the concepts. I also had to write a report for FGH about my first three months at site about how the integration period went and what activities I’d like to begin. I was pretty proud that I was able to write this 2 page report in Portuguese and can see my language making progress finally it seems.
Mid-April I traveled to Quelimane with three students and one teacher/counterpart for the 3 day JOMA (Jovens para Mudança e Ação-youth for change and action) conference. It went pretty well considering I hadn’t actually even held a JOMA meeting with the students yet-the 2 times I tried to set up meetings it ended up raining heavily and no one showed up, so I hadn’t actually even met the students before the conference. They are very sweet kids and seemed to enjoy the week. During the day we had a speaker that talked about HIV/AIDS, gender, being a leader, etc. There was also free HIV testing one of the days and I saw all my students and teacher in line to be tested, I was really proud of them for being so brave! At night the kids were divided into 2 groups, the Pirates and the Ninjas. I can’t even describe how into it these kids got! They were SO excited about this competition; you can just tell they don’t get to participate in activities like this often. I was the leader for the Pirates and it didn’t take much to get them all pumped up before an event. We had an egg toss, 3-legged race, crab walk, wheel barrow race, dance competition, limbo competition, and dizzy bat competition. It was so great to see the kids get a chance to let loose and actually be kids for once, they loved it! During the conference I ended up sharing a room with 3 other Volunteers, Josh (Moz 14-my group), Gabe (Moz 13), and Melissa (Moz 12-she extended and is staying a 3rd year), I’ve become pretty good friends with them and we’ve formed what we like to call… “a Wolf Pack.” Amongst the numerous reasons I’m thankful I joined the Peace Corps, the friends I’m meeting is definitely one of the top! The Volunteers here are from all over the US and some of the greatest people I’ve met; it’s just crazy to think if I wouldn’t have joined PC I most likely would never have these people in my life. Most often, Peace Corps Volunteers are some of the strangest people out there, but they are definitely a ton of fun and it’s so nice to be surrounded by such a large network of people that have common interests and goals—PC service would definitely be much more challenging without the friends I’ve made! When the conference ended Gabe and I, not wanting to break up “the Wolf Pack,” decided to visit Josh’s site in Maganja da Costa. He is in the district next to mine which is relatively close and I had not visited yet. He lives in a district capital so it’s a bit bigger than my village but seems like it’s still small enough where he can get to know everyone. It rained heavily all day so we just hung out..not doing anything too exciting which is pretty much typical life as a Volunteer but it’s always so much better to be doing nothing with friends rather than alone! And he doesn’t have electricity in his house so we were really getting the true Africa Peace Corps experience for a change.
When we parted ways after that weekend we vaguely discussed plans to go to Vilankulos about a week, week and a half later because Volunteers from all over the country go down to Inhambane province to spend the first weekend in May in Vilankulos on the beach and have the 3rd annual Beach Olympics. We had decided to leave Thursday, April 29th and meet in Nicoadala, then head to Caia to spend the night at Melissa’s, our other Wolf Pack member. Little did we know that Mcel, the cell phone provider that practically everyone uses was going to stop working the next day for an entire month! Mcel goes out for a day or two here and there all the time so I was just waiting for it to come back on but as Thursday got closer and closer I realized I would have to just get to Nicoadala by noon as we had planned and hopefully run into my friends. The only other cell phone provider in Mozambique is Vodacom and I have a SIM card for this company but they don’t sell credit in my village and really it wouldn’t have helped because I didn’t have anyone else’s Vodacom numbers. I got to the bus stop plenty early to make sure I got a ride into Nicoadala on time but of course it took 3 hours for a truck to come that morning and I ended up being 1 ½ hours late! I looked around the market with no luck and headed to the Volunteer’s house that lives there. She let me know Josh had been by with another Volunteer and they left already with plans to make it to Gorongosa but she hadn’t seen Gabe. It was getting late so I decided my best option would be to leave and try to find Melissa in Caia even though I had never been there. Eventually I found out that some fiber optic cable had been cut and it was affecting the entire north-central region of the country, Mcel wasn’t working, banks and ATMs were down, and all kinds of problems have been going on. Apparently it’s going to be out for the entire month! I couldn’t help but wonder what chaos would ensue if something like this were to happen in the United States!? I ended up making it to Caia and paying a bike taxi to haul me around town until I finally ran into Melissa at the secondary school. We were far enough south that text messages were able to go through in her town so we ended up finding out that Josh and Gabe had made it to Gorongosa-which was good for them but it meant I would have to travel alone all day the next day. I left bright and early Friday and ended up making it to Vilankulos by 4pm, finding rides turned out to be pretty easy since I was traveling alone and was able to get a ride the majority of the way with a doctor from Maputo that knew most of my colleagues at FGH and I only ended up spending about $6 on transportation for the whole way!
Vilankulos has such a beautiful beach; it’s a bit livelier than Ilha with many more tourists. We stayed in a dorm style bungalow along the ocean and played “Olympic games” on the beach on Saturday. It was great to see a lot of the people that live in the central and south that I don’t get to see very often.
Gabe, Josh, and I left Monday and stayed in Caia again on the way back, we ended up making pretty good time on Tuesday and were able to take our time getting back to site. After traveling around and living out of a bag it’s always kind of nice to get back to site and back to a routine but it’s also a little depressing and hard to leave friends and get back to work and living alone with no one to really talk to.
I’m back at site now and have heard through the grapevine that my counterpart made it back from Spain but is apparently quitting FGH to move to Spain now and go to school there….? This is just what I’ve heard…we’ll see next week at our meeting. Today actually I had a visit from my boss at FGH and met a new staff member that they just hired who is going to be in charge of all the Volunteers. They’ve been creating and trying to fill this position for a few months now because our former boss also had many other duties as well and it was hard for him to take it all on. Hopefully now that they’ve designated a specific person to work with us things will go a bit more smoothly and we’ll all feel more guidance in our projects. We talked briefly about the struggles I’ve been having and I explained to them that right now I’m just coming up with projects I’d like to work on but I’m not sure if there are others that FGH would like to see me working on. Right now I’m working out some details for lesson plans I’d like to begin as an “after-school” type program with students at the secondary school. I plan on bringing up subjects such as HIV/AIDS, safe sex, gender roles/norms, goal-setting, etc. And also include a variety of activities such as creating a giant wall map, hosting HIV+ speakers, watching HIV related films and discussing them afterwards, it will vary and depending on the students interest may be only once a week for a few months or extend throughout my entire service. I am also still working on getting the agriculture project going with the women from TCE. When my co-workers were here today we discussed the project and he said I would be able to get the seeds and hopefully some funding next week at our meeting.
I can’t believe it’s already spring back home and starting to warm up! It seems like it’s finally starting to cool down a bit here…sort of. I don’t know what I’ll do when I get back to Minnesota after this; just being in Vilankulos the other week where it’s a bit cooler I thought it was freezing! And there it was only probably in the 70s! Only 2 ½ months until my trip home to visit! I can’t wait but I also have minor panic attacks at times when I think of all the hustle and bustle of home, it’s going to be an especially busy time with two weddings but I can’t wait to see everyone and time is just flying by, I’ve already been here for over 7 months!
Happy Mother’s Day to all my family and friends with children!
Cheers, Katie

Monday, March 15, 2010

Snippets from recent emails and letters detailing the past few weeks :)

Thursday, Feb. 18
I went up to the hospital in my town because the Mobile Clinic is always there on Thursdays and Dr. Monica said she wanted me to go sit with this FGH psychologist down by the mobile clinic and just listen and learn about how they talk to the patients that are about to start antiretroviral treatment. So I sat with this guy for a few hours and could actually understand all of his Portuguese and just listened to him explain about HIV and the treatment to these people, he’s just sooo good at his job! It was like the craziest thing, he would ask these people “so, do you know or do you remember what illness you have?” Most of the people were just all shy and wouldn’t even look him in the eye and just would say “yea, I have HIV.” And then couldn’t explain what HIV even was or what the difference between HIV and AIDS is..which I know, most people back home probably couldn’t either really, but I think if you had the virus you would educate yourself a bit and know then! So, he had to sit there and explain to all of them in like the simplest way possible that HIV is a bug that likes to eat things in your body and once you start to get other illnesses too than it turns into AIDS but by taking this medicine you can stay healthy and live a long time still and that HIV isn’t a death sentence anymore. The medicine doesn’t kill the bugs, you will have them your whole life, but the medicine will put them to sleep and they can’t eat if they’re sleeping. And then he was telling them that for the first couple weeks the medicine might make them sick, but to keep taking it because it will get better and help them and then he was trying to explain that the medicine needs to be taken every day, twice a day, 12 hours apart. He’d ask what time they wanted to take it in the morning and then say “Ok, so if you take it at 6 am, then what time do you need to take it at night?” and seriously, a lot of them couldn’t figure out what time to take it 12 hours later then! It’s just so crazy the lack of education here. I wonder how many of them even understand what he was telling them and fully comprehend what they have??!! For many of them he had to try and explain by using analogies and comparing it to malaria and a couple of them then would get all confused thinking malaria and HIV are the same or something. He would ask “what causes malaria?” and some people didn’t even know!! Anyhow, so then he had to ask stuff about if the spouse knows and if they have an “amigo other than their spouse, and if they do, it’s fine, it’s normal,” the patients would be all shy and obviously not want to talk about it and I’m sure many of them lied because they were too embarrassed or ashamed. It’s just crazy how so many haven’t told their spouse, mostly the women, because they’re just afraid the husband will be mad and blame and possibly even beat them. The doctor would tell them to try and get the husband or whoever in to get tested and fill out these forms asking them to come in but not writing what it’s for on the form, so basically they’re tricked in to coming in. I don’t know, it was just a crazy experience, it was the first time I’ve been around all the HIV type stuff you think of or hear about when people talk about Africa and the epidemic, it’s just effecting soooo many people it’s so sad, especially when the women come in with their babies that are HIV+ and were helplessly born into this disease!
Friday, Feb. 19
Friday I was supposed to go with Infinha to go search for these people that haven’t showed up for their hospital visits and find out why, and try to make whatever arrangements are needed to get them to come in, and just see if they’re still taking their antiretroviral medication or what the deal is…but of course that fell through. I went up there and sat for about 3 hours and finally gave up because the supposed car never showed up!
Wednesday, Feb. 24
Wednesday I was going to go with Marcel, the Brazilian Volunteer that works at the school, to Musaliwa, that village along the ocean and just bike there with the TCE Activistas to listen to their meeting. So we bike to this town and I just love the little village along the ocean there and the kids are just so cute, I just love them! I sat and listened to the TCE people teach this group about HIV andthey handed out paper and pens to all the people there so they could write stuff down and seriously, they had to go soooo slow and repeat everything over and over for the people to be able to copy down what he was saying, some didn’t know how to read or write and I could tell they felt a little embarrassed that they weren’t writing things down. So then some TCE person started talking to them about vertical transmission (parent to child) and is telling them that they can only pass HIV during birth but that it’s safe to breast feed because there’s no blood in breast milk so they can’t pass HIV then. I was listening thinking no, no, I must not be understanding it right or just hearing it wrong or my Portuguese is just not right or something??!! So I asked Marcel “are they telling them that breast milk doesn’t have HIV??” he’s like “yea” I thought I was going to have a heart attack! I was like, NOOOO, you have to correct them! So Marcel tries to tell them that it does have HIV so women that are HIV positive should find another mother that isn’t and have her breast feed for her or buy milk..which I also was freaking out listening to because somewhat ridiculous considering the cultural. HIV is so stigmatized here, it’s just not even really an option for women to ask another woman to breast feed her child because then everyone would know why! And buying milk isn’t an option either because it’s so expensive and people are way too poor here. I feel like all of this just confused them even more. They just changed the rule of what HIV+ women are supposed to do, which is breast feed either way for the first 2 years (this is for Mozambique) because it’s more dangerous if you don’t because it’s more likely the child will starve to death and it’s a somewhat low chance that they’ll get HIV if they’re taking antiretroviral medication.
Thursday, Feb. 25
I went up to the hospital to try and do something for the day and ended up taking patients weight as they came in for their consultation with Infinha. Not one person weighed over like 150 or 160 pounds, not even the men, I’d say the average was maybe a little over 100 pounds! It’s pretty sad, it’s because they have HIV and can’t eat and have so much weight loss from all the complications and stomach problems they sad! A few ladies were in the 80s…it’s really sad! Oh, and Infinha and I were talking because he always likes to practice his English and ask questions about America. He was like “so..what is HIV like in America??” I tried to explain to him “well..less than 1% of the population has it there…and here it’s like 15-20% or more, so it’s wayyyy less in America..” Then he asked if someone with HIV from Africa is allowed into America….and this is the educated hospital staff, so great… then he asks what about malaria in America? I’d say the Mozambican educational system has a ways to go…
Friday, Feb. 26
Friday I went up to TCE to go to their weekly meeting and make sure someone set them straight about the HIV in breast milk incident and Marcel was there and planned on giving a talk about the subject so I was happy to hear it was being addressed.
Later on that evening, this TCE guy showed up at the restaurant place across from my house where the new ADPP Volunteer from Finland and I were hanging out and chatting. He was with some Mozambican friends and is just a nice guy that I always say hi to here and there and so they sat with us so we could chat in Portuguese to help the new volunteer practice and learn. Eventually the guy start talking about the other day when they said breast milk doesn’t have HIV and he’s like “yea, Marcel came and talked about it at the meeting,” and then starts telling me/asking me like “yea so when a mother is out at the machamba(like in the fields/crops) and she’s sweaty and has her baby tied to her back, and the baby starts crying and so she takes the baby and puts him/her to her breast to have milk and she doesn’t wipe the sweat off, that’s how the baby can get HIV?? She needs to wipe the sweat off her breast first..??” Needless to say, they are clearly still confused and I’m going to have to plan some kind of demonstration to make it clear!
Last week (Feb. 28-March 3) I had to be in Quelimane for a work meeting with FGH.
Monday, March 1
We were only supposed to have a meeting March 2nd and the other days were free days and needed for transportation for some of the Volunteers that are further out. So Sunday night when we all got there we went out to dinner and had a pretty late night, staying out chatting and just enjoying being with other English-speaking Americans!  Monday morning we were just lounging around at the hotel trying to watch a movie on my computer when another FGH volunteer comes in and says she just got a text from our boss saying we have a meeting at 2pm today, which is in an hour!! So we all run off to try and get ready. The Volunteers that have already been with FGH for a year tell us we’ll probably have to present to all our bosses in Portuguese on what we’ve been doing at site so far and our plans for the next 2 years!!
We got to FGH and our boss starts the meeting, which is with a bunch of higher-up bosses, some of which have flown in from Maputo! He said we’ll go around and hear about what we’ve all been doing and asks how long we each want to have to talk..20minutes each?? Or do we need more time than that?? Yikes!! We were all completely unprepared! When my turn came around I told them about all these projects I’m going to start and the organizations I’ve already started working with, then I told them my library idea and they seemed to love it, so hopefully that won them over!
March 2
Tuesday we went to the office again and filled out these sheets in Portuguese with our goals for the 2 years and what projects we want to do. Then we had a talk about with our boss about any problems we’re having at site with our houses, counterpart, work, etc. I just said that I don’t always feel included with FGH because a lot of times they are in Macuse and don’t even tell me or try to have me come do stuff with them.
Monday, March 8th, 2010
A few ladies from the TCE group came to my house today and asked if I could help them get seeds for their fields. I spoke with FGH and am working on getting their supplies. The food grown would go towards helping HIV+ women, orphans, and other people in the community that are too ill to work. Next week I’m going to go out in the community with the ladies to meet some of the people that will benefit from their agriculture project and get all the information FGH needs from me.
Tuesday, March 9th, 2010
I’ve been having some “issues” with my maid and her daughters! They’ve been borrowing things from me a lot lately and now that I have a cat and need to leave the house key with them when I am away so that they can come in and feed her, they’ve been just helping themselves to whatever they are in need of and is available in my kitchen and bathroom! It started out just being a bit of oil or some sugar, soap, Q-tips, etc. Of course I always said yes and gave them whatever they needed…but now it seems they are using my things more than I even use them! Just recently I left to go to Quelimane for the weekend and came back to find a large amount of my oil gone and chocolates missing from the freezer that a friend from home sent me..I didn’t say anything because it’s not like I had taken an inventory of the things in my house and wasn’t sure they had been used and so I didn’t want to wrongly accuse them, but then the next weekend I left and came back to find my whole jar of sugar gone. Later that day, the girls borrowed my bike and returned it without telling me they popped the tire! The next morning the mother came over claiming something outside of my house needed to be fixed and that if I just gave her 50 mets she would get it taken care of.. First of all, I don’t think the thing even needs to be repaired, and secondly, if it does than it’s something the landlord should pay for. I could tell she was a bit upset that I wouldn’t just hand over the money to her and finally it all boiled over when she came to ask for my oil. I finally confronted her on all my missing items and said that I don’t know or care who did it but that it needs to stop! I told her that I feel like they are using my stuff more than I even use it and that I’ve had to go and buy more sugar and oil because of them! And it’s not just sugar and oil, I’ve let them get away with multiple petty little things, it’s just finally built up so much over these past 3 months! They think that just because I’m white I have all this money to waste away. I don’t think they understand I’m a fricken V-O-L-U-N-T-E-E-R! It’s just so irritating!
My neighbor brought over a lock for the kitchen door, hopefully it gets put on soon so next time I leave I can just lock the doors to my bedroom, kitchen and bathroom!
Wednesday, March 10th, 2010
I stopped up at the school today where I’m having my JOMA group and spoke with the director, I mentioned my library project idea and she seemed very interested. I told her I was still in the process of looking at all the schools in Macuse since there are many, she immediately said “we don’t have one but we need one!” like she wanted me to end my search and chose her school, which I’m definitely leaning towards.. I know some of the kids at that school and the building structure is pretty good, I think it would be a good place to house a library. There isn’t a specific location for one right now, but the director said they could make space-not sure if that means turning one of the pre-existing rooms into a library or building a new area, either way, I still have a lot of planning before this project gets started. I am discussing this with my Assistant Peace Corps Director in a couple s at our In-Service Training Conference.
Saturday, March 13th, 2010
I had a pretty epitomized Peace Corps moment…goat killing. A bunch of the Zambezia Volunteers had a little weekend extravaganza to celebrate one Volunteers birthday and just spend some time together. Saturday morning, myself and 3 or 4 other Volunteers went and picked out a goat, we took it back to the house we were hanging out at and the guard/maid there slaughtered it for us! It was pretty disgusting! One of the Volunteers helped hold it down, but none of us were actually experienced or brave enough to do the actual deed! It was pretty gross but just another TIA (this is Africa) moment to add to my list!
It was a fun weekend, we made pizza, goat meat of course, tacos, and sangrias and just lounged around all day. We were at an NGO workers house, he’s from England I believe and had satellite TV (caught up on some MTV-so strange to see!) and used his internet…ahhh, the life of luxury!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tickets! Come get your tickets to the Magic Show!

After a few weeks of doing a whole lot of nothing, it seems my work is finally beginning. Now that the holidays have passed, organizations are finally starting to get going again and school has also begun here in Macuse. It felt good to actually have a schedule of activities and meetings to attend last week.

On Tuesday I met with some people at the health post, my counterpart, and the FGH doctor. We discussed a few project ideas, including a bike ambulance project. Wednesday I was able to stop up at the primary school at just the right moment to awkwardly walk in on the entire staff having their meeting. Lucky for me, I was invited to pull up a chair and sit at the head of the circle and be starred at by 20-or-so sets of eyes. I introduced myself and explained to them that I would like to work together on whatever projects or areas they need assistance in…after a few minutes of confused, blank stares, I arranged a one-on-one meeting with the director for a later date and let them get back to their staff meeting. The events of Thursday deserve their own paragraph, so let me just skip to Friday, I sat in on a TCE (Total Control of the Epidemic) meeting with about 40 field officers and again introduced myself to the sea of blank, confused stares. I’m not sure if I just need to talk slower, give a more detailed explanation, or if the blank, confused stares will always be pointed in my direction simply because I am this white foreigner female living in a rural African village, and this, to many people I feel, is incomprehensible.

The events of Thursday were much like that of a grand circus performance, or perhaps a magic show would be a better analogy…it certainly was unlike anything I’ve seen or been a part of thus far during my stay in Macuse. Perhaps I shouldn’t even be writing this, or maybe I’ll be asked to take this post down by Peace Corps or FGH eventually, but for now I’d like to share my thoughts and point of view and in no way am writing these things in a vicious or cruel manner because I imagine I was myself much like these women I am about to describe just a year ago on my trip to Uganda. So, some “high-ups” from the US that fund my organization (and shall remain nameless, although I realize it would not be hard to research the information if one feels so compelled) came to visit this far-away African land to see how their money is being spent and where improvements can be made. In an effort to impress these women, FGH sprang into action, recruiting the theatre group from a town away, having the Mobile Clinic pay a visit, and obtaining a guest speaker to do a presentation on breast cancer, all squeezed in to one afternoon presentation at the health post in my village while these ladies stopped in to observe the work being done. I imagine this was largely the reason why I was invited to be involved for the first time in the month I’ve been here, normally, I just randomly see an FGH vehicle pass through my town and no one has informed me that they will be here doing work or bother to invite me to tag along to try and learn about what they do. So on this occasion, I was there to witness it all, the play centered around condom use, the speech was on how to do a self-breast exam, and many people were waiting to be tested for HIV in the Mobile Clinic. As the women pulled up in their nice air-conditioned car, they filed out, all wearing similar khaki pants and white t-shirts to fight the heat, and were welcomed by 40 or so activists singing Mozambican songs of appreciation and gratitude. It reminded me of my trip to Uganda, such a tainted view, everyone puts on a performance everywhere you go and jumps to work in an effort to impress the donors. It’s not a true sense of daily life and activity. I think a surprise visit would be far more telling, but planning a surprise trip to Africa has its complications-it’s not really a place you can just show up to, unannounced and unnoticed. The women, with the help of a translator, introduced themselves and asked a few questions, the answers I heard given didn’t exactly coordinate with reality I didn’t think, but I kept my mouth shut-I’m just a Volunteer after all… “Oh, there were far more people here this morning, but a lot of them left already because of the rain.” “We have events like this a few times a month.” “There are field officers that go out and cover 50 different villages doing home visits.” These tidbits of information seemed to impress the ladies and evoke an “Obrigada” and “Muito prazer” out of them-the few words of Portuguese they perhaps learned for their big adventure. And with that, they were gone, headed back to their air-conditioned hotel with running water and satellite television, I imagine.

I just don’t think there’s any way a person can understand it unless they’ve lived here for an extended period of time-and I am in no way claiming to be an expert having been here a mere 4 months, but there’s definitely realizations that I’ve made from my time here-one being how ridiculous and incorrect my vision of Africa was after a short 2 week trip to Uganda one year ago. I stayed in a comfy hotel with running water, did a home-stay with a well-off family that lived in a 2 story home with running water and owned a car, and topped it off with a safari and boat ride down the Nile, how pleasant. The Africa I’m seeing and living in now is much, much different-for better or for worse. Donors I think are typically all about numbers, they want statistical data to prove their money is making a difference-but Africa doesn’t work that way. There’s too many beliefs and traditions, lack of education, and poverty to just throw our Western ideals on them and expect them to immediately adopt our theories and proven medicine, etc. It’s complicated…and like I’ve said, perhaps this will only make sense to those who have been in Africa, working, living, not just visiting.

I hope I haven’t sounded too dark and depressing in this post. I definitely think FGH needs to be here in Mozambique and they are improving many lives, there is just a different pace to life here and it can’t be understood or accepted by most do-gooders in America that are results-driven, so perhaps the magic show is necessary to keep foreign aid from vanishing from Mozambique all together…

It’s my birthday this weekend! I’ll be in Quelimane visiting some other Volunteers and co-workers! It will be nice to leave site and see some of the Moz 13 Volunteers that are back from Christmas break now too! I stayed at site last weekend and actually hung out with some Brazilian volunteers that are working at the school here and on Sunday I biked to the ocean! It was about an hour each way, a little draining in the heat, but well worth it! Very beautiful and peaceful, and the children that ran after me, yelling “olá!” as I biked away reminded me why I’m here. See their picture below! :) Tchau.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

What happens when your mosquito net keeps things IN rather than OUT!!

I think all Peace Corps Volunteers wait for some pivital moment, a funny story, an embaressing moment, a confusion between cultures, something to take home with us and recite to friends and family to bring to life the adventures of living in a foreign country for two years. Well, the other night that story unfolded for me.

I was warned that I had a rat problem in my house and was a bit nervous since I hadnt been quite as lucky as others and experienced them during training, so this would be my first encounter with them, and Id be all alone! My interactions with the rats began slowly and non offensively. First, the rat poop appeared, signaling their arrival. Then they began appearing as I was drifting off to sleep, little glowing eyes in the corners of my bedroom. One night, one decided to try and join me as a dinner guest and came scampering through my kitchen. When I had another Volunteer stay over we woke up the next day to find her tooth brush missing, I found it a few days later on the floor behind a crate in my room, which is where the rats must have decided to leave it. Well, as of a few nights ago, the rats and I have reached a whole new level of intimacy....
A mosquito net is not only great for preventing malaria, Ive always viewed it as a total bug control device. I rely on it to protect me from any and all mosquitoes, cockroaches, spiders, rats, etc. Every night I make sure it is fully tucked in under my mattress and no corner is left untucked or loose. The one fear Ive had since arriving at my house is that a rat may get under the net and on my bed. I have two mattresses stacked on top of each other and the bottom one is a bit bigger than the top, so there is sort of a little shelf like area that sticks out between the two. Ive always worried that if a rat got under my net and on to the bed, that is where it would hide. During the day I usually make my bed but leave the mosquito net on one side untucked where I get in and out. Foolish, foolish me!
The other night I went around and made sure the net was tucked in well in all the spots other than where I enter, centered the top mattress a bit better, turned my fan on and positioned it just right, turned out my light, and used my cell phone as a flashlight to hop in to bed and under my net where I could be protected from the rats that I feel are sure to appear as soon as the lights are out. Once under the net, I tucked in the open end where I entered and as I went to the other side just to double check and tuck in even better, I put my hand down on a RAT that was resting right on that little shelf part I had feared so much! At this point I had secured the net so well under the mattress that even my flailing arms ripping at the net in an urgent attempt to get out and as far from whatever hairy, moving creature I had just touched, wasnt enough to set me free. After the first panicked attempt, I calmed myself slightly and ripped the net up from under the mattress. I jumped out of bed and turned on the light to see a rat running about my bed trapped under the net. As my heart was racing and sweat dripping from my moment of panick, I couldnt help but laugh out loud to myself standing there in my room with a rat in my bed. Eventually the rat found its way out and ran as fast as his little legs could carry himself out of my room. That night and last night, and Im sure every night from now on, Ive done about 7 or 8 checks around every inch and corner of the bed before turning out the lights and getting in to make sure it is rat free!
At least now I feel after that moment of intimacy I am fearless of the creatures. I always thought it was funny when Mozambicans bring up rats, they are always sure to note that they cant kill you! My host family would say ''Oh, we dont have rats in our house, but you know, they cant kill you.'' or ''oh, the province youre going to has a real rat problem, but dont worry, they cant kill you.'' I never found much comfort in that, but now I suppose I am greatful for at least that!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Mr. Kennedy said it would be difficult..he wasn't kidding.

The first few weeks at site were extremely diffrent from training! When I was in college I used to talk with a professor of mine about the Peace Corps, he is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and was always willing to take the time to answer my questions. When discssing if the Peace Corps was right for me, he would always ask, "Are you ok with being alone a lot? Going long periods of time with no one to talk to and feeling very secluded?" I never really understood exactly what he was talking about until my first week at site! I finally get it now! Those were pretty legitimate questions...It's a strange feeling, it's like I've never felt so alone and yet can never really be alone at my site all at the same time. I have no other Americans at my site, no family or friends to talk to, no on near by that really understands what Im going through and how much I've given up to be here, yet hardly a moment goes by that some neighbor or kid or shop owner doesn't come wandering over to borrow scissors or shampoo, drop off a plate of rice or fruit, get me water, or just stop by to chat. It gets VERY hot in my village, so whenever I'm at home I leave both my doors open to let the breeze in. There is a shop behind my house where people are always coming and going from with a perfect view in to my house, and then in the front of te house on the other side of the road is a bar with loud music always on and also the house where my maid lives so her children are always stopping over to chat, get water, borrow my things, or bringing me fruit. I feel SO alone but with no privacy, it's a srange thing!

We were delivered to site at a rather difficult time. My first week at site was right before Christmas and most businesses and organizations had closed for the holidays, the majority of Volunteers from last years group went home to visit family, and it was my first year away from home. It was definitly a challenge to say the least! I attempted to go out and meet the people at the Police Station, Hospital and other officials in town, but many had left already for holiday. The town is a lot smaller than I had expected but I am beginning to like it more now.

My first week at site I seriously considered ET-ing (Early Terminate) because it was such a shock being thrown in to such a small town with nothing to do, everything closed and people gone on vacation, nothing but potatoes, onions, and rice in the market, being homesick, dealing with 105 degree heat all day, no running water or fridge for a cold drink, flies and mosquito bites along with rashes from the water...the list goes on and on. I think the biggest thing is that I always pictured my time in the Peace Corps as a constant adventure filled with traveling and non-stop exploring and entertainment, but really I've found A LOT of time is spent learning the art of doing nothing at all. Just sitting, starring at the wall, waiting for something or someone that will never show up or happen, akwardly standing in neighbors yards with nothing to say to each other...activities such as these. I'm thankful I didn't leave because instead I forced myself to do some more exploring and have found some beautiful spots in my village. On the other side of the salt fields next to my house is a river with a gorgeous view of the sunset, and about a 20 minute walk away I did some exploring and snooped around the ADPP school and found some amazing views of the river there. It is right where the river flows in to the Ocean so it is salt water and I actually went on a canoe ride out in the water with my friend when she was visiting and we saw dolphins! I totally hadn't expected that! I was also able to go out to a little village right on the ocean about 10-15 minutes away (an hour by bike) to talk with a group of men starting a fishing business. It was so beautiful and the people living there were very friendly. I'm planning on doing some sort of activity or group with the children there and also going to try to get HIVtesting sites out there a few times a month since they don't currently have anywhere to get tested in town. I walked around on the shore and it is just endless miles of untouched shorline-it's so crazy, not a single house, hotel, restaurant, condo, nothing! It's sad though to think that the land probably will be developed in the next few years and it will most likely be by South Afican or Asian companies rather than Mozambicans.

The day after Christmas I went out to Macuba to visit another volunteer there. Five of us stayed with a girl living there, it was helpful to get away from site and have other volunteers to talk to about everything. This site is much bigger than mine and it was great to be able to buy a few things and even get ice cream! After a couple nights there another volunteer and I headed back to my site. Traveling to and from my site is an adventure I can not fairly describe in words... My town is so small that there aren't many vehicles coming and going from there, so the few trucks and semi's that are get pretty cramped to say the least. Amanda and I waited in the bac of a truck with about 30 other Mozambicans, 4 chickens, crying babies, random people in the street walking up trying to sell us shoes, peanuts and phone chargers, more and more people trying to cram in, it was about 100 degrees out-this went on for a good hour or so before we pulled out of town and got going! Then there's usually multiple stops along the way to let peopl in or out, fix flat tires, buy fruit from street sellers, etc. A trip that should take only an hour usually takes closer to 3! It's a painful process! It was really nice having Amanda come visit me though, we were able to cook spaghetti and watch movies on my laptop-and of course go on the canoe ride and see dolphins! After a couple nights at my site, and Amanda losing her toothbrush to the rats in my house, we left for Quelimane to meet up with the rest of the Moz 14ers that are in Zambezia. There's about 13 of us that met up and got a hotel to stay in over New Years. It was a lot of fun to see people I haven't seen in so long. We went to Zalala beach on New Years Eve for the day and laid out, did some swimming in the Ocean, and then had a restaurant cook us some huge fish. It was a great day! I'm still in Quelimane now an a little sad to be going back to site tomorrow, but I'm hoping now that the holiday's are over people will be back to work and there will be more for me to do.

I've talked to a lot of the volunteers that have been here for a year already and they've been helpful in making me realize that there will always be tough times and days when you just want to go home, but it gets easier and I just need to find a routine. I don't think it's necessarily getting easier just yet, I think I'm just beginning to accept the fact that this isn't always going to be a fun, crazy adventure full of traveling, I'm realizing there will be many times when I want to be done with all this and go home, because I'm homesick, bored, sick of the heat and the food and being culturally sensitive, being worried my things are going to be stollen, irritated that I don't get cell phone service in my house, or a variety of other things that make life here extremely difficult, but no one said it would be easy and I will appreciate the luxuries of home that much more in two years when I get back! Going out in to my community is usually helpful in curing my "poor me" attitude. I feel a bit ridiculous for feeling sorry for myself when I look around and see how difficult so many others have it! It seems so unfair that I for some reason was born in America and get to return in 2 years and the children in my village will likely spend their whole lives there. It really is a privelage for me to be here and I try to keep reminding myself it will get easier, I will be better, stronger person when I get back, I am accomplishing a huge life goal, and it's not like there's a job waiting back home for me! I am going to set up my house and decorate so it feels more home-y and start looking forward for family and friends that are coming to visit.

ok..this is getting lengthy and I feel it's a bit jumbled. Stay tuned, more to come!