Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Mozambique 2.0

In the United States, on average, workers get 12 vacation days a year. In the Peace Corps we accumulate 2 a month, totaling 48 vacation days in two years.  While it may seem arbitrary to give volunteers vacation days, we (usually) work very hard and deserve every day of the 48. Ryan and I have visited only 2 other African countries while we have been here, mostly due to lack of funds, but also because the majority of our time was spent back at home visiting friends and family for my brothers wedding. Although we have only visited 2 other countries, I believe we have found the Mecca in Mozambique.

Mozambique is every part beautiful as it is ugly, calm as it is chaotic, full of color as it contrasts dark; I appreciated the obvious contradictions as compared to false illusions, or so I thought a few hours across the border. Maputo is challenging – residents speak Portuguese and very few speak English. Unlike Swaziland, where the start of a conversation in SiSwati goes along way, and then eventually most people revert to English, the people of Mozambique only speak Portuguese.  While sometimes this works in your favor (the police have a hard time fining you if you don’t understand each other) the majority of the time you just feel lost and confused.  Ryan and I quickly procured a few key phrases, and when we were really stuck reverted to SiZulu, which some people understood. We were fortunate to travel with other volunteers with a car, which we thought at the time would work in our favor. Even though we ended up spending a small fortune in fines and bribes, it was still nice to be with friends in the confinement of air conditioning and good music.

On May 22nd we were off and on our way to Tofo, a beautiful beach up north on the peninsula of Mozambique. (Well, we were off after the border post held us for 2 hours dealing with car issues.) After another 2 hour detour of getting lost down the wrong road, seeing a very unfortunate car accident and stopping at numerous police check points, we realized we wouldn’t be able to relax until we were out of the car. After 12 hours in the car, we finally made it safe and sound to Paradise Dunes Lodge in Tofo. It was paradise.  We each had our own private rooms, a huge kitchen, a deck overlooking the beach, and because it wasn’t tourist season, we were one of only a couple of groups on the beach. Everyday started with a run on the beach, and every night ended with a late night beach swim watching the red moon rise. Although we tried to snorkel with whale sharks, they were nowhere to be found, however we did see jellyfish, octopus and dolphins.

There was only one casualty, when Ryan got bit by a crab. 

We went on a lot of adventures, my favorite being the all-day island tour where we went out on a rustic boat with a local guide and toured the island off of Tofo called Survivor Island, named after being untouched after the Mozambiquan civil war.  We met the chief, played with the kids and ate great seafood with the village elders. The island has no electricity, they boat fresh water in from the nearest town of Inhambane, and they prize pigs. It felt very isolated and very African. 

While being in Tofo was paradise, again we had to venture out onto the road through Maputo to get back to Swaziland, and that proved to be hell. We got stopped by too many police to count, got fined an enormous amount once, and ended with a cop car side swiping our rental and then, naturally, making us pay for the (slight) damage on their truck. In the meantime, the rest of our group was also being hassled by police. I think it is safe to conclude that I did not enjoy the police force in Mozambique. By the time we crossed the border all 5 of us traveling in the car heaved a huge sigh of relief, and spent the night praising Swaziland for her honesty and kindness, which is truly a trait special to Swaziland. Ryan and I concluded that, for the first time in our African experience, we decided that public transport trumped private.

While Mozambique is a little more raw than Swaziland, it is my favorite African country that I have visited, and the most likely for me to come back and work in again. It is challenging and beautiful and I am so glad that we were neighbors.

Unfortunately, our camera finally bit the dust, but luckily our fellow travelers took some good photos.

Kelly, Ryan, Addy, Ashton and Peter

Close of Service Conference

The dogs are barking. The rooster is crowing his ritual death rattle. Batman is scratching at the door and has succeeded, yet again, in knocking down my perfectly placed mosquito net to keep out the unwanted – bugs, snakes, mice, spiders, and whatever else my imagination can conjure up. It is 5 in the morning, and Ryan and I have 30 minutes to pack up and be on our way to Mbabane. Today is May 6th, the first day of our Close of Service Conference. We rush out the door with our backpacks stuffed to the brim of every electronic we own because with the promise of free wifi, you bring it all. We say goodbye to our family and are on our way. The chaos of the homestead behind us, we take a deep breath and for the first time think about what leaving really means to us.

We have thought quite a bit (albeit superficially) about this moment since arriving exactly 24 months ago today. It has always been inevitable to me that we wouldn’t stay here forever (not always the case for all volunteers) and yet it is very hard for me to believe that the time to leave is now.  I am very ready and at the same time not ready at all.  How do you say goodbye to people who have become your closest friends and family? Am I going to adjust well to working 8 hour days and going to school full time, as compared to teaching a class of 8 for an hour in a “classroom” that is actually the outside of a clinic and then reading the rest of the day?

I am going to miss the beautiful people and strong friendships I have made, the blood red sunset over the banana trees, the laughter of bomake (even when it is at my expense because of my poor SiSwati), the children asking me, “How are yooouuu” from across the field, singing gospel songs with my host family, and obvious, my homestead dogs. During our COS conference, that was where my mind was; How much I am going to miss this place, and how it will always be a part of me and how I will carry what I have learned from this little country for the rest of my life. I have learned more about life and happiness and sadness here than in all of my 24 years of living in America. Granted I still hope to have plenty of more time to learn, I am grateful for the insight that Swaziland has given me. And even in a place with more trial, grief and loss than any I have ever seen, Swaziland also has the most hope and perseverance of any country, the kind of hope that makes you want to be a better person. 

Yes, Ryan and I were thinking all of these things during our COS conference. We were also thinking about hot showers, automatic laundry machines, delicious ice water, our favorite foods, and of course, seeing our family and friends again State side.

Just maybe Ryan and I will have to do Peace Corps again…you know… when we are much older. :) 

Group 9 Peace Corps Volunteers, Swaziland, Africa

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


While last year I was able to attend GLOW with my faithful counterpart, Zandi, this year we were entrusted with four young women from Mpaka and a second counterpart, Xoliswa.  So much preparation and planning was put into this years Camp GLOW and now I am finally basking in the glow of its success. The Mpaka team taught me so much about patience, persistence and how to overcome adversity as a young woman here in Swaziland, and I taught them how to make Smores, so, I think we are even. This year we had 50 girls, 20 counselors and 17 Peace Corps Volunteers participate, and even made it into the Swazi Observer!  My favorite day was Art Day, where Yebo Art from Mbabane came in with local artists and gave the girls the very rare opportunity to express themselves in forms of writing, portraits and screen printing.  While American youth come together frequently to learn and have fun at camp functions, Swazi youth rarely have the time to get together and learn outside of school, and it was endearing how much they prized the opportunity to come.  Not one girl called home crying asking to go home – which I have done to my poor mother more than once while attending girls camp. (Sorry, Mom!)

Now our job is to recruit more young women to form a Mpaka GLOW Club, but first, I am off to Mozambique to swim in the ocean and eat clams!!

Here are some great pictures from GLOW 2013. We also performed a dance that will be posted as a video on Facebook shortly, however, I refuse to watch it because I feel like it will bring me down to the reality that it wasn’t that cool, but it felt really cool at the time! I hope you enjoy.  


Emma and her 2 campers living on the edge!

Self portraits created by the campers.

Bring Your Fire!