Thursday, July 3, 2014

New Chicks, Round Two. (DONE)

I’ve had a new set of chicks.

This time there was ten of them.  And they lasted about a week.  Now, six of them are dead, victims to a cat.  Probably the same stupid cat that massacred the initial batch. I’ve still got four though, and my friend Gabriel and I are doing everything we can to ensure that these four make it. So we decided to try and teach this cat a lesson. And our attempt completely backfired in a phenomenal fashion.

Gabriel sent me to the market to pick up some raw fish and a couple of pills of Ratox (rat poison).  His idea was to kill the cat.  When I got home, we crushed up the pills into a powder, cut up the fish into small pieces, and then injected the powder into the pieces of fish.  That evening, we walked around my quintal and placed pieces of fish in various places in hope that the cat would find them and eat them. It was a solid plan.

Word gets around fast in a tight-knit community, and news of our mini-war against the local feline population spread like wildfire.  Sure enough, the cat (cats?) were smarter than us and the next day, every hours or so, a new kid would show up with a huge smile on his face dragging a dead crow behind him.  “Nice work!” he’d say, “can I make frango?” Frango is grilled chicken, and no, you cannot make frango out of a giant poisoned crow. We ended up burying about 5 crows in a mass grave that day.

Well, the cat’s got the best of me anyway and the rest of the chicks died anyway.  Two made it for a little while, but a few weeks later one caught some disease and collapsed from exhaustion and the other disappeared about a week later. I can only assume the worst.

I’m expecting a round three though, and you know what they say: Third time's the charm.

UPDATE: Everyone's dead.  After the last chick died, the hen decided to go too. That marks 34 chicks, two roosters and a hen that I've lost this year.  I'm starting to think that maybe I'm not such a good chicken farmer.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Marrying a Kid: A Cultural Conflicts of Interest (DONE)

Today was good, real good.  But then it got bad, like real bad.  So many things.  Yuck.

I blame the experience.  They say that serving your country as a volunteer in the Peace Corps is both physically and mentally challenging.  Yeah, I see that, and yeah, I’d agree.  But thus far, I don’t think I’ve had to deal with anything I was able to hurdle.  Stomach problems, language issues, isolation, homesickness, discrimination, corruption, a lack of just about everything…yeah, there’s a lot to deal with out here.  But then there’s also that whole “immerse yourself and integrate in a new culture” thing.  And yeah, that part’s always been really fun for me; probably one of the things I’ve liked the best.  It’s all fun and games (literally), that is, until you find out one of your 28 year-old friends married a 12 year-old.

So I found that out today. Here’s how.

A friend of mine, someone I’ve known since the first week I arrived, someone I’ve trusted and never had a reason to dislike, invited me to come see the new plot of land he recently purchased on the outskirts of town.  He’s proud of it, like really, really proud, and he wanted to show it to me.  Seeing an opportunity to not only hang out with him, but learn about land ownership here in Mozambique, I accepted his invitation to hike out there and check it out.

We set off in the morning.  Starting at Anna’s house, and walking west. “It’s not far from my old house,” he said, “maybe 200 meters.” I quickly found out that in reality, he has no freakin’ idea how long a meter actually is.  His current house is already a 45 minute walk from the center of town, and it took us another 30 to get to his new plot.

When we got to his current house, we hung out there for a while, talking about his current land and his new business.   Him and his wife recently started buying in bulk, and then selling small items like bars of soap, razor blades (for haircuts, because lots of people use one to do it themselves here), one-time-use packets of laundry detergent, cookies, thread, incense, and a few others little things. I had a chance to meet his wife, as well as her aunt, as they both sat on a woven reed mat, chatting about whatever it is that Mozambican Woman like to talk about with each other.  It was probably like shoes or matapa, or buying like 14,000 capulana or something.  Anyways, as I walked around his fenced in plot, looking at some of the trees and plants he’d recently sown, I couldn’t help but think that his wife sort of look, well…odd. She was cute, but not in a sexual way.  More like an adorable sort of cute. Cute like a child is cute. Like when my six year old neighbor comes over, stands in my doorway as I’m making breakfast, looks at the peanut butter jar with hungry eyes and excitedly goes “Ooo la la!” Well, it wasn’t till later, during that 30 minute/200 meter hike that I found out there was a reason for that.

After we left, we got to talking. Our conversation turned to marriage and I asked him how he met his wife.  He explained: “Well, I used to be married to another woman from the matu. We met in my hometown when we were kids.  We grew up together, and then got married.  We had a son too.” Interesting…he used to be married…and has a kid from the previous relationship.  I was curious, so I asked him what happened. “Well, she’s really tall.  And me, I’m not so tall.  I didn’t like that, so I left her. Also, she has a lot of volume.” Seriously, this is a direct translation.  He used the word “deixar” and followed it up by saying that she’s got volume, which I guess it’s a semi-not-so-horrible, but still pretty awful way to say that she was fat.  So yeah, that’s what happened. Oh yeah, also I cried a little inside.

But that was only half the story.  “So this is your second wife then?” I asked him.  “Yeah,” he replied. She’s from this bairro (neighborhood) actually, our new plot of land is right near her parents’ house.  Maybe 100 meters.” Again, he was totally wrong about the distance, but he was right that it was in fact closer.  We ended up passing by the house she grew up in right as he was telling me how they met. “Three years ago, when I was working in this bairro right by here, I used to pass by her house while fetching water.  I’d always see her outside working, and I always thought she was so beautiful. Much younger than my wife, much more beautiful. During holidays, I would go with my boss over to her family’s house to celebrate. We would talk, we’d dance, hang out and have a good time. I think she liked me!” he continued.

“So when you say much younger…like, what does that mean…” I said, trying my best to keep a straight face and not throw up on him.

“She was 12.”

“Oh shit…I mean, oh…shit!”

“Yeah, so anyway, one day I decided that I wanted to marry her.”

“You decided?” I asked him, wondering if she had any say in the matter. “Yeah,” he replied, “when I had decided this, I went over to her house to talk to her about it. She said ok.  So I then went to ask her father for permission. He agreed, and set the price: 700 Meticais.” Now, the concept of a dowry, isn’t surprising. It’s a traditional thing that’s been around for a long time, though it’s more or less starting to fade out.  What is surprising though, is how low that price is. Its $23 and change.  And even though it was a ton of money for my friend, the poor subsistence farmer, this guy and his family weren’t struggling.  I saw their house, we walked right past it.  They had electricity and a metal roof on a mud-walled home.  At least up in Cabo Delgado, this usually means that they had a little bit of disposable income.

So just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, and I was holding on to some hopeless optimism that maybe, just maybe, even though he married her at such a young age, maybe he’d hold off a few years before getting her pregnant. You know, to let her actually be a child for a little longer.  Nope. Sure enough, she got pregnant at 12.

I’m not sure I’ve been more confused about something.  On one hand, I’m horrified, disgusted, and trying to fight off a strong desire to self-immolate in protest. On the other, I have this stupid little whisper in my ear trying to excuse the whole thing because it’s cultural here. This is tradition.

I dunno.  Personally, I’m not sure this is something I can let go.  This guy has been nothing short of an amazing friend. He’s trustworthy, kind, courteous and always wants to help.  But on the other hand, even though he’s all those things, I now know that he’s also a guy who left his first wife cause she was fat, ditched his kid, bought a pre-teen girl off her father for less than what it costs me to get a haircut in the states, and then got her pregnant.  And apparently, that’s all ok.

The truth is that isn't not okay, and a good serving of Mozambican's are just as sickened by it and really working to change this sort of behavior.  Not only does the government recognize that it's bad practice, but they educate students about it in schools and have country-wide campaigns working towards the goal of ending it.  It's a out-dated custom that's on it's way out. It's certainly not unique to Mozambique, nor Africa.  The sad thing is that some of my ancestors probably practiced it, and your's too.  Eventually it'll go away, it just takes time.

So yeah, Peace Corps is hard.  The threat of exotic diseases complimented by the omnipresence of diarrhea, the never-ending feelings of loneliness, constant reminders that your family is 300 million miles, and then, just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, there’s the icing on the cake, there’s the culture-shock.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Eryn's Little Friend

Eryn and her friends.
Great picture right?  That’s a picture of my friend Eryn surrounded by some of her neighbors.  She another PCV who lives in Macomia, a site about 4 hours north-east of Montepuez by chapa (mini-bus).  These boys love her.  Like LOVE her.  She taught them how to play baseball, she gives them cake, she paid for one of them to go to school this year, and among many other things, she showers them with old Bill’s and Saber’s t-shirts (she’s from Buffalo, if you couldn’t have guessed).  But there’s one boy who in particular, a 13-year old by the name of Sadique (he’s the kid in the picture that’s holding the glass jar) with whom she shares a special connection.  Eryn saved his life.

Two years ago, Sadique was playing with some fiends by a river when a crocodile jumped out of the water and bit his leg.  Although he had managed to escape the crocodile, he was left with a gapping, festering wound on his leg that went all the way to the bone.  When Eryn arrived in Macomia in December of 2012, Sadique’s leg was ripe with gangrene.  As Eryn began to settle and integrate into her new home, she got to know her neighbors.  And it didn’t take long for her to find out about the dying twelve-year-old who lived next door.

As Eryn built a relationship with the boy and his family, she quickly gained enough trust that the family permitted her to take him to the local hospital.  The boy had been a patient there already, but with the system being what it is here, they couldn’t do much for him.  My guess, is that after the accident they probably gave him five days’ worth of Paracetemol and told him to go home and rest.  But Eryn didn’t accept that.  She returned to the Hospital time and time again to make sure this boy could see a doctor.  Finally, after a handful of consultations, the doctors in Macomia suggested that Sadique get x-rays in Pemba, the closest city that has some-what contemporary medical equipment. A small victory.

So Eryn took him to Pemba and got him his X-rays; mind you, she paid for the entire journey because his family couldn’t afford it.  The doctor’s in Pemba had good and bad news.  Sadique would live, but he had a severe bone infection and the chances of him keeping his leg were slim to nil.  They’d have to operate.  So they gave Sadique some anti-biotics, cleaned his wound, and showed Eryn how to care for it.  Then they sent them home with the first of more follow-up appointments.

Eryn continued to play doctor, arriving at Sadique’s house, undressing his wound, cleaning it, and then redressing it as instructed by the doctor’s in Pemba as well as some advice from the home front.  The antibiotics helped a bit, but she could tell it wasn’t enough. So she kept applying pressure on the doctors and soon enough, Eryn had their attention.  So, she took Sadique back to Pemba for surgery, both under the assumption that he’d be coming back with one less leg.

But that didn’t happen.  And thanks to Eryn’s humongous heart and meticulous caretaking, Sadique was able to keep his leg. Rather than cut the whole thing off, the doctor’s extracted the infected part of his bone and were able to stop the infection from spreading further.  Best part is that after the surgery was done, the doctor’s took the bone they extracted, put it in a jar, and gave it to Eryn to keep.

Today, Sadique is the smiling 13-year-old pictured below. He’s living life, running around, and fazer’ing barulho just like his other friends; only there’s a slight difference.  Not only does the kid have a great story to tell, but he’s got an awesome scar and a bone in the jar to prove it.

Sadique with his Jar
That's exactly what you think it is.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Picture Tour of Montepuez

Random Pictures of Montpuez that I never got around to posting...

Main Street, our only paved road...doesn't look as lively as it usually is.

Community Trash Collection bins serviced by the city a few times a week where some women and a tractor come by and shovel everything into an open trailer for transport somewhere else.

Hand laying bricks to make a new road!

Old, abandoned Portuguese Buildings.

Plane Crash?

A few shoppes lining the Back of the Municipal Stadium.

the NEW Lil Wayne Hair Cutting Saloon.  So you can drink and get a hair cut?

Site Mates! from Year One...Mireya and Anna

Fallen down house.

Baby Birds

Outside of town to the west along the main road.  The pavement ends and the red dirt begins.

Ncoripo's bigger, taller brother.  Also called Ncoripo.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Wow, what a difference a year can Make.

What a difference a year can make.  I remember my first day of school last year.  I remember feeling nervous, unprepared, and overly terrified.  Flash forward one year, and it felt like walking into high school the first day of senior year. You think you own the place. Correction, you know you own the place.  This time, even though my Portuguese still isn’t my strong point, it didn’t matter.  I didn’t have to script my introduction.  I wrote down points.  I wrote down a basic outline of what I wanted to go over, and I let my mouth take it from there.  For the first time in a long, long time, I really felt like I actually knew the language.  I was putting together paragraphs upon paragraphs of fully scripted based on what I thought would be comprehensible sentences. No, no no, and it was incredible!  I asked if the kids understood what I was saying, and they said yes.  And then, knowing that these kids are incredible bullshiters, I asked them to restate what I had said in their own words. And they did it!  Wow!

Now onto business:  First day of school here is pretty weak.  Half the students don’t come because half of the teachers don’t come, because half of the students don’t come, and so on and so forth.  It’s a miserable cycle, but it’s the reality here.  Neither party will try to change because they know it’s a waste.  What a shame.  So we pretty much waste Week 1 by doing nothing.  Anything you teach, will have to be retaught anyway, so instead, most of the teachers who do show up just spend their periods doing “Apresentacao,” which is essentially just an introduction.  That’s what I did.  I walked in, introduced myself.  Told the kids (a lot of whom I had last year!) about myself, where I came from, and my experience, and then opened the floor up for questions.  First, they all wanted to know how old I was.  Then, as if it were planned, someone would ask if I was married.  When I replied no, in unison, they would all give me give me the most perplexed face you’ve ever seen.  It was like they tied their faces in knots.  “How could you not be married?  You’re so old!”  Wow, thanks kid.  I would explain that I hadn’t found the right girl yet, a girl who I not only like, but one who likes me back.  They all seemed to get a kick out of this, sadly the girls were laughing too. 

Marriage for love is a pretty new concept.  For men, you look for a woman who will have sex with you.  For women, they usually look for a guy who has and/or comes from money, thus improving the chance that he can provide for you.  Actually, it kinda makes sense.  At least from the woman’s standpoint.  The man’s side makes sense too, but there’s not really a whole lot of thought about picking. I’ve found that a lot of educated Mozambican’s (though certainly not all of them) are starting to look at marriage through a pair of western glasses and now try to find more of an emotional connection, but outside of the cities, this isn’t as common.  Meh, it is what it is.

After the laughing was all said and done, I finished the Q&A session by thanking them all and telling them how much I was looking forward to not only teaching them Physics, but getting to know them as well. I told them to look forward to the following week when we’d enter the marvelous world of physics.  Then I told them to bring me snacks and not make fun of me for being white.  Neither of those things will happen.

I miss my family.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Abertura, Round 2.

Oh the humanity!  Just when you think you’ve managed for forget something so awful, it comes right back, smacks you in the face, laughs at you, and makes you feel even worse than it did the first time.  That was today.

I really hope that this year’s Abertura (the Opening Ceremony held at the Secondary School's to mark the start the new school year) doesn’t reflect the pace of this school year. It was so slow, like every single individual part. And we spent so much time just sitting and waiting. They said it would start at 8am, and even though all the students arrived on time and were seated in the cafeteria ready to begin, we didn’t start until nearly 10am.  Typical.

At 830am, we professors began our walk down to the event from the teachers’ lounge.  I swear to you, it couldn’t be more than two football fields, but you’d have thought that by the pace my colleagues were walking, a new-born could have learned to write Shakespeare-esque tragedies before we arrived at our destination.

We were directed to sit in chairs in the front row and along the sides of the room.  After taking our seats, we sat there and waited with the students an hour and a half for the Municipal President to arrive.  He finally got there a few minutes before 10am, and we immediately started what would be (spoiler alert) an extremely long and boring ceremony.

First we sang the Mozambican National Anthem, which, if I haven’t already complained about it, is like a patriotically-Mozambican version of UB40’s Red Red Wine, in that it’s pretty much the same loop on repeat for 20 minutes, just a whole lot less catchy and a whole lot more lethargic.  It’s about 17 minutes too long, and in reality, kind of epitomizes culture here in that it’s inefficient and loves to waste time.  When we sung it this time though, we sung it extra slow.  It’s like they knew I was already in pain.  Jab the dagger in my gut and slowly, slowly twist.  I experiences the energy-zapping power of this song, and this showing was by far the most unenthusiastic version I have ever witnessed here in Moz.  I think one of the older guards actually starting have a boredom-triggered stroke about half way through the song.  Unfortunately for him, because you are required to show respect by standing completely still, he had to suffer until we finished.  Poor guy.

After singing, we did elongated introductions where the director introduced each class (8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th) and then each group of professors (Portuguese, Ingles, Math, Chem, Bio, Physics, etc.).  This was actually pretty fun because all the students yell and scream for the groups of teachers as they stand and wave.  It makes you feel pretty good about yourself!

Our director then began the most painful part of the ceremony (yeah, it was even worse than the anthem, it was like five anthems combined into one): the reading of some extremely boring document (more like a book) in its entirety.  He literally read every single item on every single page, even taking the time to say each point.  “Section 1.1 Tuition…Ponto 1.2: First Day of School…Ponto 2.1.1: Grades…Seccao More boring things you don’t need to know, but I’m going to read anyways because here in Mozambique we make a big deal about petty things just for the sake of feeling important.” 45 minutes later, after the guard had another boredom-induced stroke and we lost a handful of students to mid-morning naps, he finished. 

The ceremony concluded in a similar fashion to what happened the year before.  We all went outside and watched as the important people planted trees.  I actually really liked this part.  I took some pictures and we called it a day.

Here’s to a great – and hopefully fast-paced – school year!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


When my cousin’s and I were little, my grandma used to tell us stories about my dad and his brother’s antics while growing up.  It was awesome. And although the themes of her stories these days revolve around Kumidan, the lack of vegetables in her diet, my grandpa falling over, and her fights with the nurse, she’s still got a knack for telling some of the classics.   One of my favorites I was able to hear again while I was in Florida back in December was about how my Uncle randomly brought home some chickens one days. I’m gonna spare you the details, but all you gotta know is that he got some, and then kept them in the basement. All in all, the 70’s sound like they were pretty freakin’ sweet.

Well, in taking after my uncle, today I bought two real, live chickens!  Fortunately for me though, I don’t have a basement, so instead I’m planning on keeping them in the chicken coop in my back yard.  So, I’m now the proud owner of what will hopefully be the start of a successful chicken family living inside my new chicken coop.

My Chicken Coop!

Originally, it wasn’t supposed to happen until Saturday.  But when life throws you lemons, you..ugh…take advantage of the fact that you’re already in the city with your friends and buy the chickens then.  Yeah, I think that’s how that expression goes…

So anyways, I took my friends Elizio and Betinho to the city today to run some errands.  I brought some walkie-talkies back from the States for all the kids in my neighborhood to play with, and they’ve gotten a kick out of them so far.  They always come over and ask for them.  But today, we took them to the city.  I had to go visit Anna and our new site-mate Jeanette first for something, but told them that we’d meet up afterwards. I gave them one of the walkie-talkies (they call them telephones) and told them a time to be in the city.  Sure enough, about ten minutes before we were supposed to meet, I turned on the radio to hear them jabbering away like I had been online the entire time.  We did a little shopping, and then, because we were already passing the guys selling chickens, we bought two.  300 mets, which is just about ten dollars.  A steal if you ask me.

We marched back home excited to show the chicken their new home.  I’ll also admit that I was equally excited or them to start making baby chickens.

The walk home was a long one as question after question ran through my mind:  How is this all going to go down?  How will they know that my coop is their house?  What would they eat?  Were they just gonna run away?  When are they gonna fall in love and making more chicken?  If I were to get hungry one day, could I just up and eat one?  You know, typical stuff any new chicken owner would think…

Chickens! inspecting their new digs under my clean laundry.

All my questions were answered upon arrival.  Elizio immediately went into the ritual that apparently needs to occur when chickens are brought to a new home.  I, meanwhile, grabbed my camera to film it. The video is posted below.  If you’re impatient, fast forward to about the three minute mark where he grabs each chicken and shows it how to enter and exit its new home all the while talking to it in Macua.

UPDATE: March 15th – I’ve got EGGS! Check it out! I’ve got eggs!
Coming soon...More chickens!

UPDATE – March 17th – Two more eggs!
No picture, but there are two more egg’s in the coop! Shit yeah, at this rate I’ll be eating omelets by next week.  I think?

Another UPDATE - April 8th - This Hen is committed.  She's got ten eggs now and has hunkered down on top of them.  Apart from taking about ten minutes a day here and there to roll around in the dirty, she pretty much spends all her time sitting on them in some crazy trance where she doesn't blink or acknowledge my existence no matter how close I get.