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Mokhala

In Makua, the local language in Monapo , mokhala means “do you exist?” The response would be kihavo which means “yes, I exist.” This call and response in Makua is often used when greeting people around town. In the past few weeks, I have left Monapo, done my completion of service in Maputo, and am currently on a bus going to Johannesburg to begin the next part of my journey to Zambia, Lesotho, and home! I am officially an RPCV (returned peace corps volunteer).

As I leave the country that has seen so much of the best and worst of me over the past two years, I wanted to dedicate a post to the people who have become family. They have been the reason why I have existed the past two years.

I also want to give a shout out to everyone from home who supported me these past two years…seriously felt the love.

And lastly, I want to remember Alden and Lena who left us two soon. I promise to continue doing good in their honor.

It is because of all of you I can say kihavo!

Much love!

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PRESCHOOL UPDATE!!!

As I mentioned before, thanks to all your generous donations, we were able to raise $2,300 to build the preschool. Along with $600 donation from the parents of the preschool, we had a total of $2,900 or 87,000 mts. That was enough to build one new classroom, an office, and a kitchen. My hope is that the next volunteer in Monapo will continue working with the preschool.

Unfortunately, I will miss the completion and opening of the new school. However, I have all the confidence in Irmao Samuel, the man who is overseeing the construction and runs the preschool and will coordinate the activities of the new early childhood development center. In addition to the money raised, I donated 50 Portuguese children’s books I received to Irmao Samuel and his center.

Here are some pictures from the construction process:

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Impaca when?

Holy moly….how long has it been since a blog post?  Too long, I’d guess.  Sorry about that. I’ve just been trying to fit in as much as possible into these last few months.  But what have I been up to, you ask?  Well let’s see.  Last I left you I was about to embark on a journey and here is what the last few months brought:

  1. Trip to Victoria Falls in Zambia
  2. Tanya came to visit
  3. Went home for two weeks to watch Joe get married
  4. Came back to Completion of Service Conference with Peace Corps in Maputo
  5. Organized the REDES Handover Conference in Nampula
  6. Jess came to visit
  7. Delivered a baby (WHAT?!)
  8. Started building a preschool
  9. Traveled to Carapira for a goodbye party with my other Moz 17ers
  10. Traveled to Pemba
  11. Taught my last day of school and graded my last tests
  12. Had a goodbye party with my REDES girls
  13. Spent as much time as possible inviting myself to friends’ houses
  14. Spent a night in a fancy schmancy hotel in Nampula with Leah

In a nut shell, that’s it.  It’s definitely been caraaaazzyyyy around here.  But in a good way of course.

Let me start with the most recent, most exciting events.  I have been spending a lot of time with Jesuina and Dylan’s family (you all remember my grandson, baby Dylan).  I’ve been eating dinner at their house at least once per week for the past two months and it’s been great.  We sit and watch telenovelas (think soap operas) or sit under the starts and talk about culture, life, America, and the last news on the RENAMO vs. Frelimo front.  I feel like I’ve been adopted into their family and it makes me so happy to know they feel the same way.  There are currently 19 people living in their house, including two of Jesuina’s sisters and their families who are visiting for the month.  Talk about a full house.  And when I say house I mean typical Mozambican mud hut.  People sleep anywhere and everywhere.  There are a pack of four four-year-olds who are cousins and they are a blast to play with. One night, we were sitting outside and they all started asking me questions about America.  Questions included: Does King Kong really exist?  Are there giant snakes in America?  Where does Rambo live?  Haha it was quite entertaining.  The way most Mozambicans perceive Americans is based on the things they see on TV and in movies so you can guess that some of their perceptions are pretty warped.  It’s a great exchange for them to gain a better understanding of my culture and my home while I get to experience theirs.  Jesuina’s birthday is the week before I leave so I told her she could come sleep over my house with Dylan for the night and I would throw her a little birthday party with cake, dinner, movies, popcorn, and nail painting.  Fun, no?

I have also been spending a lot of time with my friend Farida who has become a Mozambican mother to me.  She has a new job working at a fish shop in the market so whenever I go to the market, I normally stop and chat with her for about an hour.  Some weekends, when she has time off, I’ll go eat dinner at her house and hang out with her three adorable kids.  When Jess was visiting, I took her to meet Farida.  Farida asked me to talk to her son, Abacar, who has recently been skipping school.  When I asked him why, he told me that his teacher had yelled at him for not having a uniform to wear to school.  I came to find that none of Farida’s kids had school uniforms.  This is an embarrassment for the kids and a source for bullying because, at school, if your family cannot afford to buy you a uniform, it means your family is very poor.  When I heard this, I knew it was something that could easily be fixed.  I told Jess and my mom about the conversation I had with Abacar and they both agreed to donate money to the cause.  With just $20, I was able to buy three sets of custom made uniforms for Abacar and his two sisters.  THEY WERE ECSTATIC.  It was so great to see the smiles on their faces.  Before I leave, I hope to set the three of them up with backpacks, notebooks, pens, and shoes for when they start school next year.

As a sort of thanks, Farida invited me to a Batukada, or an initiation rites ceremony for a distant family member of hers.  We had a blast!  I spent the day with my capulana wrapped around my waist dancing, laughing, singing, and meeting new women.  I came to realize that the batukada was not all that different from a Bat Mitzvah.  The women danced and sang in circles, lifted the girl up and down, taught her to sing songs in the local language, ate lots of food, and enjoyed themselves with tons of people.  The only difference was that this was a ceremony for a girl about to be married off.  Unfortunately she was very young, not more than 16, but many of the women told me that this is out of the ordinary and that most people these days wait until they are older.  I played with the idea of having Farida throw me a batukada before I leave, just for the fun of it, but I am not sure if I will follow through.  Farida was a huge fan of the idea.  In fact, she told me that I was no longer an American but now a Makua, a member of their tribe.

Now, how about this “deliver a baby” business?  Yeah, I did that.  Let me tell you how it went down.  So, as you know, I’ve been going to the hospital in Carapira every week since February, always with a hope of catching a live birth.  Most often, women were in labor but far off from giving birth.  I would sit and wait a few hours, nothing would happen, so I would go home.  The week Jess came to visit, we went to the hospital where two women were close to giving birth.  We waited for an hour and a half and then left to get lunch.  I left my phone number with the nurse with instructions to call me.  An hour later, I returned to the hospital to find that neither of the women had given birth but in my absence, a woman showed up and gave birth immediately.  Just my luck.  I returned the following week and did my normal activities of weighing and measuring babies.  We had finished up early because only five women had shown up.  I had no intentions of waiting for anyone to give birth but as I was getting ready to leave I hear someone shout “Nurse, nurse!!” from the delivery room.  I follow the nurse into the room to see a woman literally on the brink of giving birth.  I stood in the doorway for a minute, turned to the nurse and asked “Uh, uh, uh, can I watch?”  Of course, she said.  She tossed me an apron, gloves, and a mask and I took my place besides the woman.  Apparently the water hadn’t broken yet so the nurse took a pin and popped the sack.  Fluid went EVERYWHERE.  Lucky, I was standing to the side of the bed and not in front.  That would have been an unwelcomed shower.  Almost immediately after, the baby’s head started to crown.  The nurse looks at me and says “Soooo…did you want to watch the birth or did you want to help?”  “Um, I can help,” I responded.  So the nurse demonstrated how to position my fingers and turn my wrists and I imitated her.  “I’m going to break the baby!” I shouted at her.  “No, No,” she said.  “You’re doing it right.  Just keep twisting and the baby will come.”  So, I kept twisting, and would you know, the nurse was right.  The baby just popped right out.  It was a little girl weighing 2.5kg.  After the baby was born, she didn’t make much noise but was moving around.  The nurse had me put the baby on the mother’s stomach and then she massaged it.  Suddenly the baby jerked and started to cry.  It was amazing, like watching life appear out of nowhere.  Definitely one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had to date.   Currently, my maid is pregnant so I am hoping to watch her child’s birth as well.

Now, to change gears a bit, let me give you an update on the preschool.  Our pay pal account ran into some legal issues with Peace Corps Washington and we were forced to shut it down.  However, before that happened, we were able to raise $2,300 (which they let us keep), enough to build one large classroom on the land already purchased with money from the parents of the children.  So Samuel will get his preschool!  We have already formed all the cement blocks and are now working on purchasing the rest of the material to begin construction.  I am not sure the building will be finished by the time I leave but it will be well underway!  Thanks to everyone who helped out and donated to the project!!

Another gear change to the political situation here in Moz.  As I mentioned in a previous post, there has been some political strife going on between Frelimo, the party currently holding the majority, and RENAMO, the main opposition party.  During Mozambique’s 17 year civil war, Frelimo and RENAMO fought against each other and terrorized villages until a Peace Accord was signed in 1992 in Rome.  Frelimo has been in power ever since.  RENAMO has been trying to hold talks with Frelimo about changing the political atmosphere in Mozambique but Frelimo keeps denying them.  In response, RENAMO began attacking Frelimo posts and  civilian cars on the main highway.  These attacks have been sporadic but people have died.  It’s hard to know if numbers have been accurate because the news (controlled by Frelimo) will give one number while people in the area will give another.  Last week, Frelimo attacked and overtook the main RENAMO base, essentially ending the 1992 Rome Peace Accord.  The small number of surviving RENAMO soldiers have scattered but have continued to attack random civilian cars and villages.  Monapo has so far been safe and untouched; however, just yesterday, a village close to Nampula was supposedly attacked.  I have spoken with several friends in Monapo and people are scared of another war starting, especially with all the elections coming up over the next year.  On one hand, I am happy to be finishing up my service and leaving during this potentially dangerous time, but on the other hand I feel so guilty leaving my friends behind.  They keep telling me how lucky I am that I can get out and be safe.  I really hope things don’t escalate but there is always a chance.  All I can do now is hope for the best for my friends here in Monapo.  Especially with Jesuina and baby Dylan.  I would hate for Dylan to have to grow up threatened by war.  Keep your eyes peeled for news reports!  BBC and Al Jazeera have both been reporting.

Well, since  I am on the topic of leaving Mozambique, let me give you a brief update as to my plans post Peace Corps.  I officially COS (Completion of Service) November 28 which means I have less than a month left in Monapo.  On that date I will become a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. CRAZYYYYY and I hate thinking about it.  I have gone through so many different emotions in thinking about leaving, the main one being that I am not ready to go home but I cannot stay here.  I am so aware that I will likely never have an experience like Peace Corps again and it’s so hard to have to say goodbye because these have been two absolutely amazing years.  After November 28, I will spend two weeks traveling through Mozambique with Mac and Mike and then the three of us fly home together on December 19.  While leaving is hard, I couldn’t think of a better way to end my service.  I officially arrive in JFK December 20 at 4:30PM.  Who’s gunna come pick me up?  My immediate plans include putting on as many layers as possible, eating a giant plate of nachos and drinking a margarita, and making a snow man.  For Christmas, I’ll be Jewing it up at Ashley’s house in Portland and then spending New Years with college buddies in Boston.  I hope to see AmeriCorps buddies, high school buddies, and other college buddies along the way.  In January, I plan on signing up for science prereqs at a local CT university to prep myself for Nursing School. My hope is to get into a masters entry nursing program through which I can get my certificate in nursing and an MSN to work as a nurse practitioner.

This will probably be my last post until I get to Maputo for COS or maybe after my Mozambique trip with Mac and Mike.  I may try to write a couple short posts about other happenings or events that have occurred if I have the time.  What I will do is enjoy the hell out of my last three weeks in Mozambique.

SO MUCH LOVE and see you all soon!

Final Countdown

This week marks the end of the second trimester which means I have only ONE TRIMESTER LEFT IN MOZAMBIQUE. That is 20 weeks, 4 ½ months, and about 136 days. But who is counting? Well, you can! Because I got my official date of departure from Mozambique! I will be completing my 27 months of service on November 28! Crazy, huh?
But there is still so much to do between now and then! First up is a trip to VICTORIA FALLS in ZAMBIA (google it, that’s right, be jealous). I will hit up three countries, travel for four days, with six other volunteers on trains, buses, and cars. A few days after I return to Mozambique, Tanya will arrive and spend 10 days in Monapo with me. Then we fly home together and I spend 2 weeks in the states for JOE and MICHELE’s wedding. I fly back for my Completion for Service conference in Maputo and the REDES handover conference in Nampula. Then I complete teaching my third trimester, say good bye to my friends, complete my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer, travel around Africa for a few weeks with Mikey, and then finally head home at the beginning of January! Whew! Oh, and I have to visit the hospital, make peanut butter with my REDES group, hang out with friends, and build a preschool somewhere in there too! But I’m not sweating it. BRING IT MOZAMBIQUE!

Now, with the Mosquitoes buzzing around my head and the clock stricking nearly 11 PM (waaaayyyyy too late to be awake seeing as Mariamo will be here at 4:30 AM),I must say goodbye. 7 blog posts later. IF any any of you actually read them all, bravo! Either you really love me or you’re really bored. But I love you either way.

MUCH LOVE!!!

Can a Dream Come True?

On a happier note, I was able to help Jesuina (my REDES girl who had the baby I named – Dylan) get a job! Jesuina has been having a rough time with home and family life and the health of her baby. Fortunately, little Dylan is growing like crazy and at five months is a chubby, cute bundle of fun! Unfortunately, I am pretty sure the poor kid has asthma. He has had breathing issues since he was born. As I mentioned, the hospital here doesn’t have the necessary tools to test and treat him but the doctors at the clinic gave Jesuina a prescription for medication that would help. We tried to find the meds in Monapo but the local pharmacy didn’t have them nor did Jesuina have the money to buy them. I took the prescription and picked up the meds the next time I went to Nampula.

Jesuina has also decided to leave Dylan’s father. In Mozambique, when a man gets a woman pregnant, it is expected that he take her into his house and provide for her and the baby, no matter what their emotional attachment or situation. Unfortunately, Dylan’s father was verbally abusive and unsupportive to her and the baby. Additionally, the brother of Dylan’s father was living with them and stole Jesuina’s phone and the baby’s clothes to sell in the market and he did nothing. Jesuina struggled with the situation for a while before finally deciding that leaving him was her best choice. However, her only option was to move back in with her parents, who were also extremely unsupportive. They took her in because that is what family in Mozambique does, but they were not happy about it and are refusing to help pay for food for her and the baby.

I got a call from Jesuina this past week saying that, even though Dylan was only 5 months old, he was finishing her milk and still hungry. She needed to buy food for him but didn’t have the money. We went together to buy him enough baby food to last a few weeks. I decided that I needed to pull my resources and find her a job so at the very least she could support herself and the baby until the end of the year. Jesuina is currently a 12th grader studying at night and has one last trimester to finish. She would like to leave Monapo to go live with a more supportive sister in a more rural village.
Irmao Samuel, my counterpart for the preschool project, and I had discussed his need for more staff when the new preschool opened. In the past year, he had had extra help but the person left to complete school. I explained Jesuina’s situation and Samuel immediately agreed to hire Jesuina. It works out well because she can bring Dylan to the preschool in the mornings while she works, she has the afternoons to study and do homework, and she can go to school in the evenings. She can even continue to work with Samuel next year, if she wants, to hopefully save some money. Jesuina is by no means a brilliant student but she is a hard working girl who was participated openly in REDES. Her dedication is why I respect her and her resilience is why I continue to support her.

Jesuina came over looking really sad one day so we did some day dreaming about what her life would be like if all her dreams and wishes came true. That life involved NYC, 6 mixed racial children, her being a famous successful doctor, a giant car, and, of course, fancy clothes and high heels. I know the reality of her situation is that she most likely won’t ever live that life but I think it’s important for her to continue to hope and dream and do her best so she can give Dylan a good life. Her situation is rough and she just can’t give up. I asked her what she wanted me to bring her back from America and she said pictures of Dylan’s great grandmother (my mom, since I am Dylan’s “grandmother”), pictures of Dylan’s uncles (my brothers) and clothes for Dylan. I didn’t tell her this, but I will probably bring back a few personal items for her as well. I mean, a pair of fancy high heels can’t hurt. :)

An HIV Reality

After a looooonnnnggg hiatus, I finally returned to the hospital. Between being sick, planning the REDES conference, and testing week at school, I missed about a month at the hospital. Upon my return, they looked at me and said “We thought you went back to America!” It was so nice to be back, hanging out with my women and the nurses at the hospital. I love them little babies.

On my second day back at the hospital, none of the women from the malnutrition program decided to show up. Strange and unfortunate. When I asked why, I was told that it was most likely because of the cold (it’s a whopping 60 degrees when I wake up in the mornings here – super frio – I haven’t yet seen my breath). So my options were to go home or hang out and observe. I decided on the latter.

I ended up just sitting in the “exam” room as the nurse technician called in women one by one for their prenatal exams. These exams included testing the mother for HIV, weighing her, measuring her belly, figuring out how far along she was, and giving her some vitamins before sending her on her way and telling her to come back in a month.

One of the woman who came in was coming in for the first time at 7 months pregnant. The nurse did the usual HIV test and then proceeded to ask me if I wanted to do one. I said sure. She asked me what I would do if it came out positive and I said live with it. While she did my test, we were waiting for the result of the woman. After 15 minutes, the nurse pulled a second, different test to test the woman again.

The way an HIV test is done is relatively simple and fast, making it great for developing countries like Mozambique when technology is simple and people aren’t as highly trained. The person comes in, their finger is pricked, and a drop of blood is put on a strip test and diluted. After 15 minutes, the result shows up on the test strip. One cross means the person is negative for HIV. Two crosses means the person could be positive. In this case, a second determinant test is done. The second test is done because someone with an STI but who is negative for HIV could have a positive strip test outcome. If the second test comes out negative this means the person probably has an STI like herpes. If the test comes out positive, this means the person is most likely positive for HIV. Only a complete blood analysis is 100% accurate in testing for HIV and in most cases this type of technology is unavailable in rural clinics.

The woman who had come in 7 months pregnant had tested positive on the first strip test so the nurse was doing the second determinant test. While we waited for the second test, mine came back negative. Then we waited big longer before the nurse got up to shut the door. I quickly realized what had happened. The second test had come back positive and the nurse was about to tell the patient. This was going to be my first time witnessing someone being told they were HIV positive.
The nurse and pregnant woman proceeded to have a long conversation in macua, in which I understood exactly nothing. Rather than try to understand, I was the woman’s face intently, trying to detect any sort of surprise, sadness, anger, emotion. There was nothing. She looked like she was discussing what she ate for breakfast, not being told that she was HIV positive. I was amazed. After about 15 minutes, the woman got up and left, without any paperwork, meds, prenatal checks, or anything.

Once she was gone I asked the nurse to explain to me in Portuguese what had happened. It turned out that when the woman was told she was HIV positive and explained her options, her response was that she wanted to discuss it with her husband before she did anything or started any medications. The nurse tried to explain that her husband would probably get angry and blame her positive status on sleeping with other men. He would deny her access to the medications because of the stigma attached, and then her and the baby would suffer and be sick while the husband continued to sleep with other woman. The woman still denied the medication and refused to even take the paper work so she could come back with proof of her positive status and prenatal checkup. Technically, there was now no proof she had ever tested positive or even come to the hospital, at least to the outside world. I questioned the nurse a bit more and it turns out that about 7 or so women per month come back positive and there are 50 or 60 on ARV treatment to prevent passing HIV on to their unborn children (these numbers are for the prenatal department only). A lot lower than I expected, to be honest. But the reality is that the majority of people still don’t get tested for HIV and many pregnant women never even come to the hospital for checkups. Many HIV positive women end up giving birth in the bush and can then pass the virus on to their children.

A little while later, we discussed the case with another nurse whose automatic response was “oh, we will never see that woman again.” I can only hope that she decides to come back.

It’s a Girls World

The months of May and June I was busy planning the 2013 REDES workshops, both organizing materials nationwide and organizing my own workshop here in Monapo. The REDES workshops, as well as the REDES program as a whole is funded by PEPFAR (the Presidents Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief). However, as I have previously mentioned, we suffered through an unexpected 25% budget cut early this year. This meant we had to modify the way we did conferences. Last year, we had 4 regional workshops with about 300 girls and Mozambican facilitators present in total. 2 girls from each group plus a Mozambican counterpart were invited to attend. The workshop was 3 full days long and followed a curriculum based on HIV/AIDS, women’s health, women’s rights, well-being, and future. This year we expanded to have 11 smaller, local workshops so that more girls could attend. We aimed to invite between 3-5 girls from each group along with the Mozambican facilitator and PCV. We shortened the workshop to two full days so it could be held over a weekend. We kept the same basic curriculum but added a new section on income generation to help aid in the future sustainability of REDES. We aimed to provide HIV testing at each conference and invite local inspiration women to speak to the girls. All sessions were led by the Mozambican facilitators.

As National Coordinator for REDES, I worked with the other 9 PCV REDES leaders to create the skeleton for the schedule and curriculum for the conference and make sure everyone had the materials they needed. Because we decided to do more small conferences, I was also put in charge of organizing my own conference in Monapo with all of the REDES groups from Nampula and Cabo Delgado provinces. I had to organize food, transport, money, location, tshirts, lodging, etc for the girls. Thankfully I had some help from other PCVs and one of my fellow leaders, Laura. But still, it was super stressful. Not to mention that I was super sick the two weeks before the conference.

In the end, everything, of course, ran well. I was somewhat lucky in that all the groups and counterparts that attended were new so that had no previous conferences to compare to. As one of the counterparts said, when it’s new, you are just thankful for the experience and have nothing to complain about. In total, I had 33 girls, 8 counterparts, and 9 PCVs in attendance from 7 different groups. Not too shabby! We did have some transportation issues at the beginning and end and out inspirational speaker backed out last minutes but otherwise it was such an amazing experience.

One of the hardest parts of having a conference like this entirely focused on girls is getting them to open up. We had to advise facilitators multiple time to not choose the same girls to participate every time. We had to force girls to volunteer and participate and sometimes things were super slow moving. But in the end, the hard work paid off. The last session of the entire conference was on Violence Against Women in which men taking sexual advantage of women was discussed. Multiple girls (at least five) raised their hands to tell their personal stories of times men (often men they trusted) tried to take advantage of them sexually, and the girls refused. This may not seem like a big deal, but in Mozambican culture, IT IS HUGE. These are just not things that are shared or seen as wrong and so for these girls to raise their hands and tell stories about themselves and label them as wrong, it’s a huge step forward.

At the end of the workshop, we gave out certificates and surprised the girls with t-shirts we had made for them. The girls went CRAZY.

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