Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Brer Rabbit, the African trickster

During training we were asked to do an activity that would help us learn about the local culture. Most people wove a basket or a straw mat (‘esteira’) which I thought was way boring. My friend Hans had an idea that I really liked: local stories, folklore, etc. When my project idea of learning how to play the Marimba (‘timbila’) fell through, I started gathering stories. The best, by far, were the stories about the rabbit (‘coelho’). Here are 2 of them:
There was a great drought in the land that caused all of the rivers and watering holes to dry up. Motivated by thirst, the animals convened a big meeting, a summit if you will, where it was resolved that they would all work together to dig a well. The rabbit left them to their work and did not help because he gets all the water he needs from the foliage he eats.
Upon finishing the well, the animals decided to elect a guard who would keep watch over the well and chose the monkey. In the meantime, the rabbit had thought of a way to use the well. He approached the guard and said:
‘Hey, friend. I’ve got some honey that I’d like to share with you.’
‘OK,’ said the monkey, ‘let me try it.’
‘Sure, but it’s hard to pour so just tilt your head back and lean back a little so that I don’t spill any on you.’
When the monkey did this, he leaned back on his hands and the rabbit swiftly tied them together and then, having gagged the guard, took a leisurely bath in the well.
The animals were plenty upset when they saw their guard this way the next morning. They elected a new guard and cleaned the well. Both the identity of the 2nd guard and the manner in which the rabbit outsmarts him were lost in translation, but sure enough the next day the second guard was found bound and gagged and the well had been bathed in again.
The animals now elected the snapping turtle to be the guard. He hid himself in the bottom of the well. When the rabbit arrived that day, he saw no one, and thought to himself, ‘Looks like they gave up on this idea. They couldn’t take it, I’m too smart for them.’ He stepped into the water to bath and his foot was caught fast by the snapping turtle. When the animals arrived they got even with the rabbit.

One day rabbit said to his friend monkey,
‘Hey, friend, would you like to eat some almendoim (peanuts).’
‘Yeah, do you have some?’
The rabbit, being very experto (a con artist), replied,
‘No, let’s go rob the farm. You down?’
And off they went. During the walk to the farm rabbit stopped and warned:
‘Friend, it’s best that we stay very quiet and be careful at the farm. The owner of this machamba is vigilant and does not like trespassers. If we see him coming, we’ll have to run for it.’
And they continued. Upon arriving at the farm, rabbit made short work of it and the farmer was nowhere in sight. Rabbit filled his bag with peanuts and tied it secure, and noticed that his friend was distracted. For each handful of peanuts monkey shoveled into his own bag, he shoveled another handful into his mouth. Rabbit snuck behind monkey and dug a hole in the ground behind him. He then placed monkey’s tail into the hole and buried it with dirt. Rabbit then picked up a stone and walked back to where his bag of peanuts was waiting. He threw the rock behind monkey and screamed,
“RUN! RUNNNN! The farmer is here!’
Monkey tried to run but could not get up, his tail was caught somehow. He tried again and still could not get up.
‘Friend, the farmer has you by the tail! Do something, run away!’
So the monkey mustered his effort and ran as hard as he could and his tail popped off. Monkey ran as fast as he could and managed to get away with his life. When he reached rabbit’s house, his friend offered him a bowl of peanuts since his were left at the farm, along with his tail. But before he got a chance to eat them he through the bowl to the ground in rage as the rabbit laughingly told him about the prank and how priceless the panicked look on monkey’s face had been. This is why the rabbit and the baboon are not friends.

A few 1st impressions of my site

My town of Nova Mambone is a small river town. It is not a beach town, as it turns out, since the beach here is a big unpassable mangrove of mud and such (like the Everglades). The area has a very suburban feel, it seems like everywhere you look off the main road there are identical round mud huts with thatch roofs. Most people have the same model of fixed gear bicycle. I live inside of the school compound, which is surrounded by a chain link fence. I am currently living in the school directors house but they will build me a house with walls made out of caniso (yeah, I’m talking about straw, but the walls will be reinforced with mosquito netting and something solid to prevent people reaching through the wall to grab my ipod or whatever else they could get their hands on). This reminds me, the 3 little pigs story actually means something for the first time in my life. This is cyclone territory, and from what I can gather many people opt for permanently provisional housing, since whatever they build will probably be blown over within a few years.
The only blanket I sleep under here is a blanket of sweat. It’s summertime here, and it is humid with no AC. Sometimes I think that ought to be sexy because, you know, I’m in bed and covered in sweat, but really it’s not that sexy.
There’s a tv in the house and it plays the same adds over and over, maybe even worse than the U.S. There is a Brazilian soap that reminds me of Saved by the Bell and a Chinese soap that I am in awe of, like a bad sappy yet completely entertaining romance movie about friendship and love and doing the right thing, I’m compelled to watch it.
My school director is laid back and friendly, which is a blessing. I was worried that I might end up with someone on a permanent rank-pulling bureaucratic power trip, which happened to one volunteer I've talked to. Some mornings we walk a ways to a long stretch of sand near the river and do laps. Exercising in the sand reminded me of the way the Greeks would have had it in Olympia. The river has since risen over our Olympic sandbox.
The school is a young school, just a few years since it was built and the faculty are mostly around my age. They are being friendly to me even though I still can’t understand what they’re saying half the time, they just talk much faster and with a lot more slang than I’m used to.

My reactions to Peace Corps cultural adjustment tips

From the text: “Being culturally sensitive means being aware of and alert to the norms and behaviors of the local culture and, as far as possible, not transgressing them. It does not mean liking or accepting all these norms, much less embracing them or substituting them for your own.” Right on, Peace Corps. I don’t know about you, but I was worried that they would be cultural relativist to some degree.
Also in the text: “The word accept is being used in a special sense here: it does not mean liking or approving, and especially not adopting, but rather accepting the inevitability and logic of a particular behavior, of trusting that, irritating as it may be, the behavior is nevertheless appropriate in the other culture.” (emphasis mine)
The worldview from within the other culture will be tinted by their assumptions about life. A European, for example, could find it hard to understand American public opinion and policies related to gun control because some of the most fundamental American values lead us to assume that an individual’s liberties should be protected to the greatest extent possible or feasible. Whatever facts might be presented for debate, this fundamental assumption will have an effect on the way the facts are viewed. The result is that someone who is not familiar with American cultural values, like Michael Moore for example, might become frustrated and even more righteously angry when Americans don’t reach what he would consider to be the logical conclusion. Granted this is a horrible example, but I like the idea of looking at American cultural assumptions from the outside. This is, in fact, step one for cultural adjustment. Step 2 is to accept the reality of your own cultural conditioning. Step 3 is to accept the reality that the others you will meet have also been conditioned by their own culture. Perhaps a more accessible example would be if your pet dog met one of Pavlov’s dogs. Pavlov’s dog would be shocked to see you feed your dog without ringing a bell first. That’s just the way it is, what are you doing? Are you really going to eat that?

Notes from my conversation w/ Congressman Chris Smith

*These are notes from a conversation we had on September 25th, 2007, days before I left home. Due to the time passed and the incompleteness of my notes it’s hard to say how accurate this is and also where Hon. Smith’s points end and where my interpretations begin, but still food for thought.
To begin the conversation, I explained to Congressman Smith why I personally believe that U.S. Americans can’t find Africa on the map. Such as, education and helping Africa and Iraq.
We then discussed other, less pretty topics, including
Hon. Smith estimated that Faith-based groups like Catholic Relief Services do about 40% of the work targeted by the Global Fund, and yet receive only 4% of the Global Fund grants. The Board that hands out the money is morally opposed to proselytizing of any sort, and so they avoid religious groups. This ends up causing perverse results where, for example, the Global Fund funds the building of a new hospital around the corner from an existing faith-based mission hospital which has already been serving the community for years. Faith-based groups have access to an often more dedicated work force willing to work on lower salaries because they are there TO SERVE. When the personal moral beliefs of someone hung up on freedom of religion ends up wasting resources and COSTING LIVES, something is wrong with the evaluation system. This is something I definitely agree with Hon. Smith on. In addition to faith-based orgs being better run than suitcase NGOs, I’d like to add that atheists should not complain since religion is opiate for the people anyway. I say give it to them!
I really wanted to talk with Hon. Smith about China because he is a huge defender of human rights and China is a huge offender of human rights. For example the UN Human Rights Council, which remains stymied on most issues on account of an agreement that sounds like this: “If you don’t show them mine I won’t show them yours.” So the democratic defender of human rights conspires to stay quiet.
Hon. Smith also discussed a peripheral consequence of China’s growing influence in Africa. Just as USAID provides countries with “Roadmaps to development” China is exporting its own roadmap, including the notorious one-child policy. Rwanda apparently has a 3 child policy. They also have a tendency to promote dictatorships with centralized government and a lack of free press since that makes the international trade negotiations easier (fewer people to corrupt), something which directly counters our funding efforts for free and fair elections. Violence begins when opposition groups feel that their backs are against the wall and they have no other choice. There has also been some forced relocation of Chinese into Africa, much like in Tibet. The Chinese have bragged that they are helping Africans by bringing Africans to university study in China, where they are being schooled in the Chinese way of doing things.
One of the advantages that China has is it’s nack for populist PR. Whereas the US invests heaps of money into public health in these countries (I have been behind the scenes and have seen how it is done at the Academy for Educational Development and on the whole it seems to me that the programs are very results oriented and are not designed to buy grassroots goodwill toward the U.S.), China will just build a soccer stadium as a gift to a city. Which do you think holds more sway with the average African? Which does the most good for him/her?
As for my proposed career tracks, he recommended that infrastructure will be first and foremost in improving health care here (so much for health insurance schemes?) and also that the rule of law will be very important for increasing transparency and fighting corruption. Ways to track who owned what and hopefully ways to watch banking practices.

Friday, November 30, 2007

SITE PLACEMENT and local language

Correction, the local language here is Ndau, because Mambone falls under the sphere of influence of Beira to the north. Any towns further south speak chitswa. This means that the self-study language book that peace corps gave me will not be of much use! I'm currently looking for a teacher and hope to study Ndau with the same guy who taught the priest and several others before me.
I received my site placement! I will be in Nove Mambone in the far north of Inhambane province next to the Save river and the beach. The river separates Inhambane province from Sofala province. Relatively isolated though there are other PCVs across the river and down the beach a ways. I’ll be the first PCV at the site. I will live with the school director for the first couple months while they build my house.
I will write more about it when I get there. I’m very excited about this site it sounds like just what I wanted, minus the mountains. As a consolation I’ll be able to continue my fishing habit developed in the Everglades and on the reservoir in NJ. Just need to make sure I stay out of the fresh water because there’s lots of NASTY parasites that live in there.
PC gave me a self study book to help me learn the local language, Chitswa (Shit-swuh). My favorite word is “kanimambo” which means thanks.

The freshman 15 and something funny

So we were warned that women tend to gain weight during training and that the men tend to lose weight during training. PC and I have varying takes on this phenomenon. I think it demonstrates the amazing resilience of the female body, which can doggedly continue to gain weight even under the most adverse of conditions. PC would probably say that it is due to the diet being so heavy on carbs (think french fry sandwich on white rice or perhaps pasta sandwich, no joke, Angie was served a pasta sandwich). The bread is really good, by the way, my capacity for eating bread and butter is higher than it has ever been.

So during a demonstration on how to use condoms, the health lady used an empty soda bottle as the penis and when she was putting on the condom some of the leftover soda spilled out and while everyone was shocked by this I said "It's OK... really It's OK" which I made me stand out as a minute man but it was worth it because the people who got the joke, including myself, found it very funny.

The Chefe

The chefe [chef-ee] is a very common role here in Moz and something I originally found strange but have gotten used to. In each classroom, there is a chefe de classe who is the representative of all students. There is also a chefe do cuadro who erases he chalkboard (cuadro) and a chefe de limpeza who rallies students to clean the classroom when the admin orders them to clean.
In each development of houses, there is a chefe do barrio (neighborhood) who mediates neighborhood affairs and serves as a representative for the people living in the area. I guess it just seems excessively bureaucratic.

Host family dynamics, including a bait and switch

Without getting into too much detail, I'd like to address the group dynamics within my host family. Sheila is my host Mom, she is 24 like me and is a wonderful person. She takes her responsibilities seriously and likewise with partying she takes it seriously, goes to church regularly and is a fun sociable well educated person. She takes good care of me and is responsive when I express my likes/dislikes. She is a professor, she teaches 3rd grade. She has a 3 year old son with her fiance who is far away at med school. She is helping to pay his med school and after that he will help to pay for her higher education. I really hope he doesn't do her dirty by cutting out on his obligations or giving her AIDS, but this situation is not unreasonable here since women are so submissive in this culture.
Also in my house now is my aunt Lourde, who was empregada (maid) of Sheila's aunt. I'll tell what I know of the story, mostly related to me by Sheila. Years ago, the Lourde the empregada got pregnant by a man who was already married to someone else and the family said she was a disgrace and she lost her job, but one of Sheila's other relatives took the empregada in. When this relative had to move to Maputo for her job, she entrusted Lourde with looking after the house (the one where I live now). The empregada spent the electricity money on other things and now the house doesn't have electricity (why would the owner pay for electricity when she's not living there, I don't know, but Sheila blames our lack of electricity in the house on Lourde, the power company cut the power connection to the house). Sheila's aunt asked Sheila to live in the house and look after it since Lourde was not doing a good job. At some point the empregada had Carmen, this child is the one and same who gave me scabies. Carmen has a chronic problem with pilfering food and small amounts of money from both her Mom and Sheila, which angers Sheila greatly, especially when Carmen ate a whole bunch of homemade cookies that were a gift from one of Sheila's friend. I've tried to help Sheila explain to Carmen why stealing is bad. Carmen recently got bad burns on her head when she knocked over a soup pot while trying to see what was inside, i hope her hair will grow back. Carmen is what we call "indisciplinada" she is defiant even though she's only maybe 4 years old at most and fights back or laughs when being punished, and suffers no consequence for this.
Lourde also has a 2nd baby with the same deadbeat dad i think, and this baby stays up in the swaddling cloth on the current empregada's back most of the day. The baby has separation anxiety and cries as soon as it leaves the cloth, Sheila criticizes Lourde's child rearing tactics here too and i agree with her. The current empregada is about 11 years old and just failed 3rd grade for the second time. I think she considers Lourde to be her mom. How does one fail 3rd grade, you might ask? Lourde prevented her from going to the exams because she had to stay home with Lourde's baby when Lourde got called in to work in the kitchen at a bar.
Across the street is Lourde's Mom, Laurinda. Laurinda was the first person I met here, apparently Sheila wasn't there to sign the paperwork and this unsociable old lady across the street became the official caretaker. Laurinda also received the money from Peace Corps, and Sheila was always in a situation of asking the money from her. Surely Laurinda was pocketing some of it.
During the scabies outbreak in the house (around week 5), I told Sheila that she and everyone in the house would have to be treated at the same time. Sheila refused (but "I don't have scabies"), argued, and eventually I resorted to asking the PC homestay coordinator, Agueda, to talk with her to see if she couldn't convince Sheila. Agueda told me that I would have to move houses because she spoke with my Mom and my Mom refused to budge, but it later turned out that she only spoke with Lourde. The fact that I was to move houses was to be kept secret from the family until I actually moved. I explained to Agueda that she spoke with the wrong person, that Sheila was my Mom and that Sheila runs the house and makes decisions about who does what in that house. The next day the mean lady from across the street, who never invited me in nor said more than hello and took no interest in me other than to skim off the money from PC, she came over for lunch and told me that I was mistaken and that Lourde was my Mom. Why did Laurinda come into the house and make such a stupid assertion? I kept my calm throughout the conversation and explained that this all sounded very strange, and essentially that I wasn't born yesterday and to this day I'm perplexed did she really think I was that weak or stupid, or that I would cave under her seniority and just change Moms and start calling Lourde my Mom and I guess Lourde can make decisions about my well being? It didn't even matter at this point, since I was meant to leave anyway thanks to Lourde's refusal to cooperate with Agueda, I only wanted Sheila to have a chance to make things right. I kept using Socratic questions to lead Laurinda time and again to the conclusion, what she was saying was a lie, it was incredibly stupid, and that she was making no sense, but she wouldn't budge and just held to her assertions. The conversation was riduculous and I hope that I don't have to have many more conversations like this, where assertions mean more than reason in the argument. But then again I get the feeling that this will happen again, chalk it up to cultural differences.
In the end Sheila agreed to treat everyone, and finally the PC money went direct to Sheila so we are all happy now.

My new NGO and "Peel Out" is it's Name-O

Thoreauvian amblers beware if you visit Mozambique! We are all aware of the risk posed by landmines leftover from the civil war, but this problem has been largely resolved through the work of de-mining NGO’s like Halo (Grant Salisbury, Davidson alum, travelled through here with Halo and debreifed me by email on this situation) and many of the mines are no longer functional due to corrosion. Stick to the well established footpaths and you’ll have no problem with mines.
I’m more concerned about a risk that is present on the footpaths and jeep-paths and roads themselves: spent banana peels. This risk becomes epidemic during banana season, though it is a year round threat. It’s as though Bowser from Mario Kart had joined forces with some slapstick cartoon character, the streets are littered with peels and I find it apalling and patently unsafe.
Once I get to site I will work on some grant applications to start my NGO, which will be called “Peel Out”

The Chichi [shee-shee] (pee pee) Bucket

Since the bathroom is outside, I was given a bucket to pee in in the event that I need to take care of minor necessities during the night. It is a wonderful thing. I can also spit my toothpaste in the bucket so after dinner I can retire into my room if it’s been a long day and don’t need to worry about coming in and out of the room. Other PCTs turned down the chichi bucket and are sorry they did.

Slaughtering a young dejected chicken and later, Thanksgiving Turkey

I killed my first chicken on Oct. 13th, quite a while ago, and subsequently killed my first turkey on the Friday after Thanksgiving so that us volunteers could eat turkey on that Saturday. We worked on Thursday, since we could not afford to take a day off during model school.
I was distressed by the way this chicken glared around, as though it were morbidly depressed, with eyes that reminded me of the kid that gets picked on in grade school. This was a pure white chicken for market, raised for meat. It hardly struggled for its life because its life had been so meaningless. I’d much rather it were one of the free roaming chickens that walk around Namaacha scratching where they please trying to stir up something nice for their chicks.
I had seen a couple of chickens slaughtered in the days before and so I had a pretty good idea of how it works:
1. grab young chook by the shoulders and pin wings together, can be carried like his with one hand
2. when ready to slaughter, other hand holds feet together
3. lay chook on its side and stand on its feet with one foot
4. other foot on chook’s wings
5. one hand holds back the head so as to expose the neck well, other hand saws with dull knife
6. once you’re through the air canal and the neck is snapped and nerves are severed, you can either take head off completely or let the rest hang there.
7. after the first bunch of blood comes out, hold chook upside down by feet and let the rest of the blood drain out.
8. give it to mom so that she can do the dirty work, which involves
a. soaking the bird in hot water so that the feathers can be pulled out easily
b. cutting a hole in birds abdomen just above anus to drag out entrails, including heart, stomach (which can be eaten after the contents are removed), intestines (whose contents are removed by pinching and squeezing out one end), liver (figaro), lungs
c. cut out and remove anus
d. wash bird again inside and out
e. we eat the chicken feet relatively often, you take off the leathery outer skin and cook what remains, the meaty part of the palm is delicious

As for the Thanksgiving turkey, there was a mishap as while I was sawing someone in the small crowd of other PCTs said they could still hear the turkey screaming even though I was sure I was through the airway and already heard the neck snap, so I took the whole head off. Just picture how long a turkey neck is. Once the head was off, the neck recoiled and started shooting the blood over its back instead of out straight. The PCT who I’ve had a crush on for a while was helping by standing on the wings, she got sprayed with turkey blood from the knee down, it was ugly. We have pictures of it, which I hope to share eventually.
The next day, the family we entrusted the birds to told us that they had moved them from the fridge to a freezer about 1/3 a mile away. WHY!!?!?! So Thanksgiving was delayed a few hours while we soaked the birds but eventually one of them made it into the oven while another made it into a stew and everyone at the party, 35-40 people, really liked the turkey. Everyone brought food, it was a great time and reminded me of Thanksgivings at home.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

VISIT in 2009 or World Cup 2010 (here's when I'm free)

If you're planning to visit me in Mozambique, try to make it next year (2009) when I have more freedom from PC obligations. Or lets talk about going to see the World CupThese are the dates when I’m free..
School breaks for:
1 week in April, TBD
2 weeks in June TBD
1 week in September, TBD
1 month Summer recess mid-December to late January (I'm currently planning to come home to NJ during Christmas 2008)

Saturday, November 3, 2007

My home-stay back-yard and bathroom

In the background is the casa de banho, to the right, and the latrine, to the left. As you may notice, the door to the latrine is a black plastic sheet which i lift from the bottom right corner when entering. The door to the bathhouse is a light cloth which sometimes comes unfastened and blows open in the breeze. In the foreground is the pool which is an old cistern that is no longer used, and troublingly it still collects some stagnant water. It is common to sweep the dirt in the yard of all litter, rather than mowing the lawn. lawns are undesireable as that would create habitat for snakes and other crawly things. Theres a mango tree and lychee tree in the yard, and the season is in December!
This is me and a couple of good friends on our way to the "Cascatas" that is, the falls. sorry no photo of that yet, it's waayyy slow to upload

Thursday, November 1, 2007

new flickr photo

also, i manaed to post one photo to flickr, hope more to come

Rhymes with Rabies

Hey all, so this will be unfortunately a skimpy post but it's what i have time for.
The most recent news is that I got scabies. It went like this: So I had this intense itch and later rash on my hand and later on less conspicuous places. At the time when the rash first became more noticeable and migrating, I also noticed that my little sister was scratching herself vigorously every night. With that in mind I contacted the medical officer and they said it sounded like scabies. The whole family would have to be treated at the same time because if someone else still has scabies it will come right back to me. One catch, though, Peace Corps can only pay for my medication. This will begin to sound more familiar as the years go by. So now I was in the position of telling my family that they had to all go out and spend money for something which they did not consider to be a very big deal. They also considered that hydrocortisone and anti-septic would be enough for some members of the family (that is not the case as far as I’m concerned). This has been a source of conflict in the house, since I am not an easy going person when my health is involved. I finally got the medication and just put it on for the first time today, it burned and my crotch was left smoldering for at least an hour afterward.
The rest of this entry will be in the style of Moby Dick:
"Some people see half a glass of water and say: 'that glass is half empty.'" A PCV looks at that same glass of water and says, "Hey, I could bath in that!" - courtesy of my friend Hans from my language group. Portugues is going very well, btw
I felt pretty awkward squatting naked in the tin roofed, reed walled, cement floored 5x5 foot bathhouse splashing myself with handfulls of water that afternoon when i first got to site with my host family. the doorway is a semi-transparent thin offwhite cloth that would blow open in the breeze. iºve since purchased a plastic mug to use istead of my hands, and iºve figured out how to lock the 'door'.
The routine:
1. have mom or cinderella girl get up hearly to heat water in a large pot.
2. watch as mom or cinderella girl pours hot water into large plastic washbasin then mixes in cold water until its good bathwater
3. add 2 drops of bleach per liter of water and let stand 15 min.s if possible
4. Bring bar of soap in carrying cup, towel, and perhaps a change of clothes to the bathhouse, put clothes on clothesline inside bathhouse.
5. wet and lather naked body. shiver if a cold breeze comes by. perhaps wear a wool hat.
6. pour water onto right shoulder using right hand and wash under arm with left hand. switch. wash rest of body and dry
7. to put dry pants on in a room with a wet floor, bunch bottom of pant legs with the belt loops of the pants so that each pant is creased at the knee. balance on one leg while putting wet foot into leg of trousers at a 45 degree angle
8. change from crocs to flip flops at the door of the house so as not to track in mud.

will include 'slaughtering a dejected young chicken'
elephant man of maputo/ if i were mayor
my new NGO and 'peel out' is itºs nam-o

Saturday, October 6, 2007

I have arrived!

1. Staging
2. Good Times
3. Anxiety
4. Homestay
5. First full week

Chapter 1: staging in U.S.
I arrived for staging in Philadelphia on Sunday, Sept 23. I was expecting a group of maybe 10 Mozambique (MZ) volunteers (PCV’s) instead I found 69 of them. In a group that big, everyone´s personality is on steroids, so I projected mine as best as I could to keep up and be known. I was as extraverted as possible, and as such did not quite feel like myself, since I don´t prefer to be forcing my way into any conversation just to tell a joke or participate in the group discussion.
I brought donuts from Delicious Orchars, a local gourmet grocer from home, but had a rather hard time convincing people to accept them from me—again I attribute this to the group size. Then again there was the time when we were in an impossibly long and slow moving line at customs in South Africa. Someone suggested playing telephone and I tried to get that started, but whenever it hit a group of people already in a conversation the call was dropped like Cingular. I could complain more about other unpleasant instances like this but enough of all that.

Chapter 2: good times
I did not expect that there would be as many pretty girls in the group, and as expected there are more girls than guys and better yet I apparently misread the part of the manual regarding dating among volunteers—the prohibition is on dating between PC staff and volunteers. Phew.
I maintained my self-confidence throughout in Philadelphia, spoke well for myself during large group discussion, and made the 17 hour plane ride painlessly minus a sore tailbone.
Our arrival in Johannesburg was not what I expected: I sensed 5 star as soon as we pulled up to the hotel and sure enough, there was a table with elegant looking people pouring out full glasses of complementary South African wine in the lobby. Since we didn´t have enough RAND to eat dinner at the restaurant hotel and were forbidden to leave the premises, several of us made dinner on wine and the free cheese and crackers. I had a great time socializing that night.
At our last night of orientation in Maputo, we had a barbeque and the rain forced us under cover. After a while someone busted out a guitar and another played harmonica and it was on, we got to sing some songs together and that was a great thing for me, since karaoke had become an important outlet for me in Florida.

Chapter 3: Anxiety (how my mind works) over malaria, feeling of them out to get me, getting over that feeling...
Arriving in Johannesburg, we were told to claim $0.00 and nothing to declare. I had already written $500 and also claimed the maple syrup in my bag, since it is a plant product, and there were no extra slips at the line for customs, so I was stuck with my answer. I was a little shook at the prospect of being the one who féd up in customs. Luckily, when I asked the guy at the “nothing to declare” line whether my maple syrup was a problem, he just took my slip and didn´t say anything.
Nothing could have prepared me for the images I saw through the bus window when we arrived in Maputo (Ma-poo-too). It’s one thing to see another world roll by on your tv, another to see it roll by because you’re driving through it. “Holy shit. What am I doing here…physically here. I don’t belong here.”
Then we rolled into our hotel, which rooms consisted of round huts divided in 4ths, and across the internal hotel road was the pool and restaurant and party tent. 4 days of orientation there, and we didn’t leave the hotel but once on day 3 when we went to the American School for a field day with scavenger hunt. That was a huge help for me, sport it my #1 stress release and there were some people there who play ultimate.
Blaze about Malaria
But stress? How and why? Well, on day one I was calm, though I had spins all day thanks to binge drinking at the 5 star hotel. Then I found out that the Peace Corps would not be providing us with bed nets until we got to the training site. I also found out that the malaria prophylaxis drug I had been prescribed (Doxycycline) was only 80% effective whereas the once a week pill (Larium) which most people were taking was 97% effective. They hadn’t asked which pill I would like to take. I was not only distressed but also angry, here’s why: when I worked at AED, I occasionally assisted a USAID funded project which provides subsidies on ITNs (insecticide treated nets) in Africa. Now, as a taxpayer and government employee, I was expected to take this UNNECESSARY risk, thus allowing a greater probability that I might get sick during my first days in the country. If not me, perhaps one of the other 69 volunteers would get malaria due to this 4 nights of exposure. I was pissed, and with wild eyes pretty much demanded that the medical officers find me a bed net, do with the other volunteers as they wish. They could not find me a net, and I lost the illusion that my demands and opinion really mattered. OK, so I used the box shaped net that I had in my bag. In order to rig it up, I had to sleep on the floor in front of the door and be creative with bungee cords. In retrospect, two things can explain and mitigate for me slightly the Peace Corps 4 nights without bednets: I now know that there is a manner of therapy for malaria (ACTs) which I didn’t know before—I though ACT was a prophalaxis. Also, since the rooms in the hotel had sloped ceilings, the rooms couldn’t easily support our box shaped nets. Still, I stand by my decision to use my net and luckily my roommate was supportive and nice about it, there are a few in the group who would have amplified the way that I already felt about my decision at the time, I felt like a stupid maniac.
You know me, you know that I occasionally FLIP-OUT and not always for a valid reason. Once I lost my shit, I became painfully socially awkward, weak in my iris, and lost my vision of the whole endeavor of service. The medical staff and current volunteers who were running orientation were no longer my friends, they were wolves to me. They had seen me flip out, seen my weakness (a risk intolerance which would make me unfit for Peace Corps service), and were keeping an eye on me. One of the weak ones in the herd, perhaps to be encouraged to leave before the swearing in ceremony. At this time in orientation, the Country Director makes it very clear that PC service is not for everyone, and that training is the time to decide whether to stay or go home.
Interesting point of fact, its this kind of anxiety inducing pattern of thought that got me in the 80% malaria drug group in the first place. At first I had asked the medical officers to put me on Larium, but then I read one of the pages in our books and saw the pillbox insert for Larium. People with a history of severe anxiety or depression should not take this drug, period. The list of side effects sounded like my worse nightmare, just enough to push me into schizophrenia. Given how I was feeling at the time, that was more than enough to convince me that I should just use more DEET, find the wash-in mosquito repellant, and take the extra 17% risk.
In general, I am not happy with the way that the other Trainees and current PCVs dismiss malaria and its importance both for us and for MZ as a whole. Maybe they will get a chance to tell a family with a cerebral malaria case child that malaria isn’t really a big deal.

Chapter 4: Begin homestay, bucket bath!
I’m back to normal, largely thanks to the field day, and living with my host family now. If you’ve seen the film March of the Penguins then you have an idea what it’s like when we get dropped off at homestay. Roughly 30 trainees and as many host family members walking around calling out the name that will hopefully be recognized by their counterpart. The lady who picked me up was kind of anti-social, she mostly talked with her neighbors in full speed Portuguese during the walk back. Then she took me to my house, which is not her house, but rather her daughter’s house across the street. This makes me think that the instructions from Peace Corps regarding my hygiene were given to the old lady and never reached my de facto host Mom, which means I’ve had a lot of explaining to do. Given my Portuguese skill level, the explaining is not the best. I told her to bath my fruit and veggies with some bleach-water for 15 minutes and the next day there was bleach water in my shower bucket…it stings a little when you bath with it, not to mention my skin is white enough without bleach, thanks.
My host Mom and other family members are more sociable usually. The first night was particularly challenging, though, because Peace Corps requires a lock on my bedroom door and, just in time, the guy was there installing the lock when I arrived at the house. I was sitting at the head of the table, and my bedroom door was four feet from my head. Every other syllable I heard at the table was “BANG” so that made it hard to understand much.
The food is good but they use a lot of oil. At breakfast the other day I thought to myself “if I have to eat one more oily fried egg for breakfast…” and then realized that despite my tough talk, I will more than likely be eating many a fried egg for the next 2 months. I miss oatmeal…no oil in oatmeal.

Chapter 5: First week in Africa
Life’s easier now. Our language groups are small, 5 students, and I already liked everyone in my group even before we were assigned to each other. That’s not true of everyone in the larger group at this time, but I try to be friendly with everyone. Also, our professor is very good, and I usually benefit from the questions asked by other students in our class.
Yesterday we had “Mnaga” Time, that is to say, fun time. I taught our Mozambican families Rock, paper, scissors, and they taught us their version of duck duck goose which is much cooler because you can peg the person with the ball and all the people sitting down chant a beautiful African song.
I’ve had the flu and runny nose, followed by an upset stomach and a little fever. This is quite normal, having read the welcome materials, and I’m not concerned at this time. I have a pretty good idea how it started. Since I first met them, the kids in the house have had snot moustaches that sit on their lip for lack of a cloth to wipe it off.
Along with my host mom is her cousin, who has a baby but the Dad is off with another woman. Also in the house is a Cinderella girl who does chores all day and doesn’t go to school and is spoken to harshly. I think she is another daughter of the player who left my host-Aunt, and my guess is she has nowhere else to go.
No electricity because they weren’t able to pay the bill. No running water. The neighbors are really nice. Also, I don’t feel threatened when I walk down the main street or even side streets in the daylight. It’s hard to believe that I’m living in the specter that I saw rolling past the bus window upon arrival. I still don’t feel like I fit in here, that might take a while.

Life is so different for me now that it's hard to believe only 2 weeks separates me from my former life. I'll write again when I get a chance. Much love, everyone, I think about home and it makes me feel good.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Davidson profs impart final words of wisdom, and I didn't even pay them for it!

On my way up from FL to NJ in late August, I stopped in at alma mater Davidson College to visit professors and see if I wouldn't know any students.

Mike Goode challenged me (naturally since he's Mr. challenge course guy) when I mentioned my consternation after Dr. Flanagan telling me that my purpose as a PCV was not to be happy. I had considered that my happiness should be a primary consideration, but Dr. Flanagan seemed to be implying that my fulfillment should be more linked to my mission or goal. Paraphrasing, Mike is of the opinion that people worry too much about being happy when really life encompasses a lot of things that might not make you happy, and you're less able to enjoy the entirety of your life when you're cherry picking for the happy parts of it. In striving for your goals you might even forego happiness to have the experiences that beckon you.

Dr. Hess compared our guesses at the next step in life or career to turning a magic 8 ball over. Eventually the answer to where I'm headed floats to the top as an answer to the question or what have you, the path reveals itself in this way.

Dr. Menkhaus. Angola's oil and farmland make good prospects if they can avoid the cleptocracy. Apart from private sector interests in Angola's resources, he suggested that development organisations may be interested in making Angola the breadbasket/cashcow of the region for the other countries around. I shared my naive thought that maybe starting PC in Angola would curry favor with government diplomatically as a way for the U.S. government to earn Angola's favor and get more of its resources, but he indicated that there are bigger fish to fry and that PC would most likely not be a bargaining chip in this oil deal. Touche

Keyne Chesire shared with me a book recommendation: "Waiting for theBarbarians" by Koetze

Dr. Holland: On the subject of travel writing, he recommends that after travelling to China, you should write your book within the first 6 months of returning, or else you will break your pen. The meaning of "break your pen" heclarified: the things you thought you understood about China at the time or at first will reveal themselves as far more complex and you will realize that you don't know what to write for lack of the ability to sufficiently comprehend China.

Dr. Flanagan insisted that I take my medications since she almost died from malaria she got in Chad. She recommended that I ask a lot ofquestions, and that I don't wait too long to start writing myimpressions because after just 3 months or so the newness andstrangeness will become familiar and won't be as recognizeable assomething different or shocking.

Dr. Paradise had lots of good news to share about Environmentalism at Davidson. Many of the projects that I had worked on are still going on, and what's even better is that there are new projects and a good amount of support from the administration. The students have made an "Eco-op" ecologically-minded co-operative house (think MTV's Real World). I crashed the first dinner party and was really happy to see that so many students in their most extracurricularly active year (sophomore year) will be working together so closely on greening the campus.

Speaking of students, I met Rex Salisbury whose brother Grant is in MZ as a minesweeper. After having spoken with Grant, I'm not as worried about the mines left over from the civil war, I was kind of worried when I first heard about them.

I asked Dr. Martin what books he might recommend considering that I never got to take his class and given that Africa is notorious for the paradox of abundant natural resources and economic hardship, he recommends:"Ecological Economics" by Daly and Farley "Environmentalism of the Poor" by Martinez-Alier "Choosing Environmental Policy" by Harrington, Morganstern and Sterner

While talking with Dr. Miller, I recalled what it's like to write non-fiction prose and thought that the context i was giving him verbally would be an important thing to write in the blog--about Portugal being the last to give up its colonies and how that perhaps exacerbated the civil war.

My favorite tidbits from the “Welcome to Peace Corps” materials:

All of my income will be taxable (luckily I’ll be in a low tax bracket)
Real estate speculation is prohibited, so it looks like I won’t be buying any beachfront property in MZ after all (yes, I really was considering it, bummer)
No dating other PCVs (under the “Fraternization” subheading, Bummer)

Training will cover how to:
Teach English effectively
Communicate in Portuguese
Stay healthy (avoid disease)
Stay safe (avoid crime)
adapt to MZ culturally

The northern half of MZ is a matriarchical tradition, the south half is patriarchical.
Key cash crops are sugar cane, cashews and corn.

Arabs arrive along the coastline in 300 A.D. The Portuguese arrive in 1498.
Portugal refused to give up its colonies after WWII and MZ. The war for independence began 1964 and ended in 1975 with a Marxist government in control. The civil war began in 1976, hostilities ended in 1992 and in 1994 they had peaceful elections. The government adopted free market policies, free press, privatization of state-owned enterprises and open to civil society (NGOs).
Peace Corps has been in MZ since 1999.

How to mail me in MZ

Letters from the U.S. could take up to according to the USPS. My address until December 10 is:

Greg Harris, PCT
Peace Corps
C.P. 4398
Maputo, Mozambique

I'll update this when I get my address at my post.

Please write “Par Avion” and “Airmail” on the letter.

If you’re planning on sending me several letters, number them so that I will understand if they arrive out of sequence. Some of the mail might get lost, though this is supposedly a rare occurrence. I’m reminded of the scene from Mark Twain’s book Roughing It. The narrator is riding out west as a passenger in a mail wagon when a part of the wagon breaks and the driver explains why: "Why, it happened by trying to make one coach carry three days' mail-- that's how it happened," said he. "And right here is the very direction which is wrote on all the newspaper-bags which was to be put out for the Injuns for to keep 'em quiet. It's most uncommon lucky, becuz it's so nation dark I should 'a' gone by unbeknowns if that air thoroughbrace hadn't broke."

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The good things I'm leaving behind

At first it was easy to commit to Peace Corps because it was idealistic. Then it was hard because I was fearful of the great unknown of Africa. Then the emphasis shifted and it became hard to leave because of the frisbee friends I have made and the work and office I have grown to really enjoy and the tropical place that has felt like home to me for the last few months together.

My life has been so happy here...

One picture is of my co-workers, another is my team doing a challenge course initiative (racing with 2/6 eyes available).
UPDATED 9/21/07 - pie-faced at my own going away party...nice, thanks Pompeii!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

In preparation of my trip to Mozambique (actually, that's a lie, I've been planning to go back to Mexico since I left in December just to see my friends and be tan felíz again), I went back to Mexico City for a long weekend last weekend. It was as much fun as I was hoping for. My roomates picked me up at the airport. They saw me first and Lola snuck up on me from behind while I was looking for them and put her hands over my eyes, I knew it was them of course. She went to work and then my other roomate, Angel, well we went to eat a rica hamburguesa and then shortly after we went to the Pulquería (
It was surprisingly packed considering it was about 2pm, with a live band and lots of old people drinking this slimy juicy tasty alcohol (I didn't say it tastes good, just tasty). Anyway, I made friends quickly in particular with Margarita, who is suprisingly limber despite being past her prime and we danced a little to the live music. The next picture is of Angel and I later that night at a karaoke bar--my favorite place to be--I got to sing Mana's "Te Solte La Reinda" with the help of a very pretty girl who was closer to my age. To make a long story short, Angel and I ended up wandering around drunk between 4 and 5 in the morning looking for a hotel but they were all closed, so I bought a hot drink (arroz con leche) and we sat down and waited for the metro to open at 6am. See, Mexico City isn't as dangerous as you thought. Anyway, best I get that sort of thing out of my system now because I don't plan on getting smashed and being that vulnerable in Mozambique.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

People I'm talking to about Africa

My friend John (Doe – anonymous for racial sensitivity issues) has traveled on business in 19 African countries, and sees incredible potential that is usually overlooked by Westerners and also incredible adversity in the form of corruption which keeps up the state of despair. He also sees two Africas, Saharan and Sub-Saharan. He seems to be more a fan of North Africa, and feels that Sub-saharan Africans have a culture which lacks a certain base level of respect for other human beings and themselves that would be a pre-requisite for development. Certainly the many stories of atrocities that go on all around the continent and have been going on since written history began in Africa don’t bring the word ‘humanism’ to mind, but then again when you see the way people (at least mothers) mourn in the face of killers such as underweight, malaria or AIDS in children, you can see the spirit of life hoping to overcome all of these adversities which include remorseless killers wearing or living in human flesh. I think he’s mostly trying to point out that brutality reaches levels in Sub-saharan Africa that are unheard-of in the present day elsewhere in the world.

Another friend, also a John, is in awe of Nelson Mandela and the political sandwich he created. Blacks controlling the government, a very predominantly white middle class and a vast lower class of blacks. The democratic and easy thing to do as a political leader, it would seem, would be to appeal to the masses by abusing the “others,” the whites with the economic power. Instead, he set in place a dynamic whereby political power of the blacks and economic power of the whites co-exists and produces economic growth to the great benefit of the country (over time). Someone in his group suffered head-trauma in a car accident while they were in Namibia, where all hospitals are government owned, government run and government staffed and the health care is “free and worth every penny.” Yes, Hillary, he is being sarcastic. It was here that he had an encounter with a life dis-respecting doctor who brashly told John, with a straight face, his friend would surely die unless they submitted immediately to 5 days of intensive care with the doctor at exorbitant rates and pay, of course, in cash. Hippocratic oath, anyone? The next hospital being at least a day away, John not being medically trained, he was unsure what to do but took the advice of a native-resident friend and left the quack's office. Are you a doctor or a con-man? Such a perversion of roles and a wolf in sheep’s clothes, it reminds me of the U.S. doctor who got women addicted to pain killers in order to abuse them as his junkies.

Greg Z., RPCV who worked down the hall from me at First American Title Insurance. Greg thinks that there's a chance that Peace Corps will start a program in Portuguese speaking Angola soon. If they do, they will probably want qualified volunteers to be the first people on the ground. Since my Grandpa was a Marine in WWII, I'm particularly drawn to this idea and if they offer me the chance to move to Angola after one year of service to be in the first group of volunteers there, I think I would go. A very exciting distant possibility for the future, I'm glad Greg advised of this possibility so that I can be ready for it if it happens.
Greg also taught me that even though PCVs tend to think the experience will be better if they get posted in a rural area, this is not always the case. He got posted in Lagos when it was just a big city (now it is HUGE). He also told me that the river that separates Tanzania and MZ (the Rovuma River) was plagued with the tse-tse fly, which causes sleeping sickness, when the American explorer Stanley passed through that way into the African interior. We hope the fly has gone somewhere else by now. He also let me borrow his copy of The White Nile by Alan Moorehead, which is a really good read about the misadventures of the first European explorers in East Africa.

Stan, a friend of a friend of a friend of my Dad's, who does real estate work in Africa. He taught me that my long term ambitions of spurring home-ownership and efficiency in African cities is possible, because he's already doing this and making a buck while he's at it. Maybe not the same rate of return you could get in some other continent, but it sounds like it's not necessarily a money-losing proposition. The property registries may be slow and backwards, but they function, and people are increasingly conscious of the importance of acquiring property rights. As he explained, there's lots of development happening right now in souther Sudan, since they are just getting out of a civil war. It seems to me that the whole continent is just getting out of a civil war, so hopefully the infrastructure building begins and the violence ends. He also warned that some NGOs (or at least people masked as NGOs) operate as loan-sharks rather than doing micro-lending in a helpful way. Coyotes. That is news to me, and I haven't looked into it yet.

Elizabeth M., an RCPV of the South Florida chapter the the PC association. She served in MZ. Learned: She figures taking care of my health should be a foremost concern. Also, she recommended that I should take with me some of those pants that zipper off into shorts, which I think is a great call since they are synthetic and will hold up to the washing by hand better than cotton work pants like Dockers.

Chris Smith, my local Congressman who has served in the House International Relations Subcommittee for a long time, tirelessly advancing Human Rights (particularly in Africa) in the face of (it seems to me) overwhelming apathy on the part of his colleagues, who think leadership involves something other than working hard to make the world look closer to the way you'd like to see it. My favorite is that (according to an editorial I read in the Washington Post) he stood up to Bush when the Executive tried to short-change veterans (he asked them to re-do the math, the funding was inadequate) and to get this money for he veterans he paid the predictable price of demotion after having served the interest of veterans for quite some time. This being at some point in 2005--yes, we were at war at that time. After countless attempts to contact him through his office, it sounds like they're going to let me meet with him either in August or September.

Things I need to do when I'm there based on what I've heard so be continued

1. My boss, Tuey, told me that in Nicaragua they grow cashews and that people use the plant for all kinds of stuff, including making tea out of the cashew flowers. I'm going to have to drink some of that tea, I hope they do that in MZ. Corn and cashews are their two biggest crops.
2. Brandon says that he has some friends in Johannesburg who would be good to talk with. That should give me a reason to go there, and I can look around for the stadiums that they ought to be building. I imagine there will be lots of Chinese engineering involved, which makes me think...I'm going to pay the extra money to get seats close to the field so that I dont' have to sit on or under any of the mezzanine balconies.
3. Carlos, my co-worker, has a friend who runs a Bed&Breakfast outside in Maputo. Hopefully I'll be able to make a weekend trip during training with some fellow PCVs to check out this bed and breakfast and chat it up with the host.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Interpretation of Fake Plastic Trees by Radiohead

I know I should be writing about Peace Corps and all, since this is only my second post, but Fake Plastic Trees is one of my favorite songs, and for the longest time I couldn't figure out what was going on in the lyrics but I think I've got a hold of it now, so I share with you:

The starting point to appreciating this song is understanding that the 3rd person voice describing the surgery victim woman and her plastic surgery performing husband/boyfriend changes to a first person voice about halfway through the song ("MY fake plastic love"). What's great about that is that we experience a bewilderingly rapid change from 3rd person voyerism to a more personal 1st person where we can better identify with the metaphorical characters who were just described, beautifully (I especially like the description of a "cracked polystyrene man"). So which one of them is it that fantasizes of escaping this relationship ("If I just turn, and run"), the man or the woman?
My interpretation of the 1st person stanza is that the man's voice begins by using the possessive "My," the last lines of the song are in the woman's voice that is so concerned with what her partner wants ("If I could be who YOU wanted" is the only use of the 2nd person in the song), and perhaps the lines inbetween which describe the fantasy of escape belong to both of them, since they both want something different ("But I can't help the feeling"). The last lines definately belong to the woman, she wants to be the object of his desire always, but you can tell from the tone of desperation that she knows that she won't be able to, and this makes her (and me) very very sad. Too bad he won't change and start loving her for who she is. She should drop that zero and get with me.
In the words of the Gorilla Biscuits, “A standard's set that I just can not live up to."
If you haven't heard the song, try finding it on or just buy the CD you'll be glad you did.

Monday, July 23, 2007

27 months from now

You will still recognize me 27 months from now, I'm sure, but it's pretty exciting to think how I'm likely to change once my world is turned upside down. Some things will never change, for example I'll always like thinking about dumb stuff (and I promise I'll come up with some real gems with so much free time and so much to think about in Mozambique, I'll have some "deep thoughts" posts now and then) and doing dumb stuff, such as jumping off high places into murky water. Now we're getting to the point of the first post: I love this picture because it frames my sentiments into something visual that we can all look at and be reminded of why this is exciting.
Explaining the photo of Giedra and I with JFK: Giedra was one of two ESL students I had while I was living in Fairfax, VA. Giedra (Lithuania) and Yadira (Colombia) were great students and they came whenever they could, even though the lessons were hit or miss or often foul ball. In Peace Corps, I'll have more time to dedicate to lesson planning, and I'll get more practice at having English teaching as my primary role.