Friday, September 5, 2008

Two travel stories from Lichinga

Hey everyone again I feel like it has been a very long time since I wrote. Let me start by saying that life in general is great. I’ve become a passable teacher and I will tell you my secret…my saving grace…I make fun of my students when they are disobedient in order to make them feel small and allow them to appreciate that I am, in fact, older and smarter than them. I’ve also gotten to a point where I can be silly in a way that suits me every once in a while and they like that. For example my Dad sent me a box full of random goodies that can be obtained at trade fairs (calculators, bouncy balls, hacky sacks, flashlights, calendar/notepads and other colorful trinkets) and I gave these out as prizes to my students who had improved their grade the most between 2nd trimester and 1st test of 3rd trimester. As you can imagine the situation sometimes got out of hand, what during the distribution, so I took to shooting wily students with the rubber band handgun trick, which people don’t know here. I also gave a calculator or two to the customs guys at the post office, who inspected everything that was sent, slowly, commenting how random it all was, and insisted that I really ought to have a receipt for everything in the box (which was impossible, since the stuff was free) before asking me all sly “So how much do you think all this stuff is worth?” As in “So how much money are you going to give me?” In the end I didn’t give them any money but did thank them for their “comprensão” after all I am using my personal savings while teaching your kids, scum-bag. Peace Corps had promised us a raise in March but I hear it is coming up short. Speaking of money, see my blog entry on local pedidos.

I live in my own house now, that is the biggest development that makes my life so enjoyable nowadays. My school director and I butted heads pretty severely while I lived in his house, which was miserable. I did, however, get started on a screenplay which I think will be a big hit. It is a sequel to the film, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” called “My Big Fat Stupid Wife” and did I mention how argumentative and irritating their houseboy “empregado” was and still is? But that’s all in the past, and now I just ignore my only neighbors to the greatest extent possible. Once I get outside the school, there are some neighbors that I do go and visit or say hi to. My favorite is the little kids, who say “dTah-dtah” (the d and t are lost in each other) which is their imitation of “boa tarde” or good afternoon, and they sound like teletubbies and make me smile immediately when they say it while getting all excited and waving. One of the biggest rewards for me is that I’m not scared of kids anymore like I was in the USA. I still don’t know how to hold a baby or change a diper, but I’m not scared of babies or toddlers anymore. Kind of like that treatment for arachnophobia where you overcome it by being COMPLETELY SURROUNDED by the thing you were scared of. Most of the women that you see around town are have a baby in tow on their back. That’s another thing…the capulana…I haven’t adequately described how wonderful it is. The capulana is a measure of one meter of colorful fabric which the women wear for skirt, maybe sown into a shirt or cut into a headwrap. To carry a baby in a capulana, you first bend over and lay the baby on your back, then you wrap the low end of the cloth under the baby’s butt (leave the legs hanging) and high end at about baby’s neck or head and then put one end of the cloth over your shoulder and the other end of the cloth under the opposite armpit, then tie in a knot in front. The babies look as comfortable as they could ever be, utterly content.
Two good travel stories I can share is from my week-long trip to Lichinga. What a party! And these are definitely my stories, as anyone who knows me well would be able to tell. Anyway, I had been developing feelings for a nearby PCV who was one of my best friends even from day 1 or 2 of training. Since her last name is also Harris, we were always in the same groups. I thought something might happen between her and I but enter a beautiful girl on summer break from App State (NC!), not Peace Corps, she had rafted up with some Peace Corps girls in Malawi and was now tagging along. Well our eyes were locked for the first minute at least of our conversation and I was feeling love at first site, but also in denial of it because I was already into the pangs loneliness pretty deep at that time and really would have preferred not to be distracted from a sustainable relationship I’d been working toward for some time. I talked to her too much and then accepted to go with her to Lake Niassa where she and the others had gotten off of the ferry that goes around the lake between Malawi and Mozambique. The ferry is called the “Ilala” and when I saw my friends get off that ship I would have sworn they were being redeemed from Bob Marley’s bottomless pit (they’d traveled second class, or steerage, the other white people had all stayed up on the top deck and enjoyed privelages like a place to lie down or use a nice bathroom and drink water during the more than 24 hour ride). This girl had not had her passport stamped, no one had, and rumors had her worried that she would have problems upon leaving the country if she did not have the stamp showing that she had returned to Mozambique. She did not speak good Portugues. She didn’t hardly know anyone. She was scared and oh so alone. OK, so when I went to get up with her at 4am in the bitter cold, my sweater and passport were in my bag which Rachel Harris was using as a pillow. I couldn’t bring myself to wake her up. So I used my survival blanket as a shawl and we went for the 3-4 hour ride out to the lake. It was so nice, though I tried not to notice or not to get swept up in my company, because I did not want to feel guilty when I got back home and saw Rachel, who I wasn’t even nearly dating at the time (thanks, a lot, Catholic upbringing, for my guilty guilty conscience). When we got to the customs office, luckily we were given a chance to explain our request before the guy asked to see both of our passports. Of course I didn’t have mine, I didn’t need it stamped, so I’d left it in Lichinga. So the guy calculated the fine for her to pay, she had been in country illegally for two days so…$2,000Mt (about $80USD) and it was difficult to play hardball when he could have been a jerk about me not having my passport but with a combination of displaying how frayed our nerves were and how scared we were of having messed up and been illegal and in the end after I asked him to show me the fee schedule where it outlines the fees for this specific situation he dropped the fine to a very reasonable $200Mt or so, which was, as I could see on the wall, the actual processing fee. But I want to point out something here and that is that people in Mozambique are great. He could have been a real jerk about my not having a passport as I am required by law to have it at all times but he’s a human being, he’s a good guy, he’s really only asking for the big sum of money because…why not? Maybe she would have happily paid to get the whole thing over with.
At the end of the trip, another damsel in distress appeared. This time it was Rachel, who wanted to try and get on board our flight if possible since it had originally sold out and forced her to get back to her site a few days late. As it turned out, check-in was a madhouse and Samantha and I (all 3 of us were good friends since our intensive language learning class together) decided to wait it out since, after all, we had confirmed reservations and would rather peacably enjoy company than elbow someone in the face for 1 hour while waiting in the 20 puppies per one tit check-in line. Eventually the tension in the line grew to fever pitch and I became aware that missing the flight was now more than just a possibility. We got in line and about half an hour later the engines started and the plane took off..without us. The First Lady had commandeered about 15 seats for her and her entourage to get back to Maputo. Tough luck, peasants. So we had an adventure trying to get things sorted out. The next day, we were back in the lines trying to get an ear of one of the 4 incompetent people in charge of check-in. Samantha had recommended that if Rachel and I pretended to be married (same last name) this might up the chances of her getting on board the flight. In the end, I think I deserved an oscar for my work as the wounded husband. I just want to travel with my wife, we’re teachers, etc. etc. and one kind soul behind the counter eventually just gave her a boarding pass. On the tarmac, someone came on board and tried to make her deboard the plane because there must have been some kind of mistake (the 2nd time I’ve seen this happen on my 5 flights in country, the first time it happened to me and 2 others) well WTF, man, then you shouldn’t have given her a boarding pass! She stayed on board it was fun. OK, you had to be there.

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