I am sorry it has taken me so long, but it turns out, I kind of hate blogging. I had a feeling that keeping up with a blog might be something I’d struggle with a bit, but I supremely underestimated the power it would have in my own stagnation. It is not that I have forgotten about it, in fact, you might even say the opposite. It is something I think about every single day. It is something that consumes my mind with most experiences I’m having, albeit the good ones, the bad ones, and most importantly, the overwhelmingly mundane ones. It’s not my blog, per se, that’s on my mind, but the desperate attempt to understand, analyze and explain in words exactly what is happening in the world around me, which seems to be an almost impossible task. Imagine sitting in the same room with a physicist, a poet, a sociologist, a farmer, a surgeon, a democrat and a republican. You can only imagine what it would be like were they to all witness the same event, and then had to agree on what happened. It would be chaotic, disconnected and probably not particularly helpful in terms of knowing what was actually the “truth.”
Now I am not suggesting that I am all or even close to any of these things, but the fact of the matter remains that there are an endless number of different angles from which to view the world. I have been living in Mozambique for over ten months now in search of something I’m starting to realize is unattainable: a focused and unbiased explanation of the truth that encompasses all aspects of my reality, as well as those of the people I’m serving. I have been frantically trying to cultivate explanations of what I am experiencing in order to get it myself. Yet in hopes to communicate that most clearly, most fully, most accurately and most whole-heartedly to the people at home, I have created a in my mind a mountain of a task, which I realize was never supposed to be the point of this in the first place.
Some days, I think my focus should be on what it is like to be working in the field of health, especially in the fight against HIV, while others, on women and girls, and what is like to be female in an especially male-dominated society. Some days I want to write about religion and the role it appears to play in my community, the ways I interpret its conflicting intentions, and the things I have been learning about myself through the process. Some days I (especially) feel the need to write about race: the ways in which I am so frequently and blatantly privileged here, for which I am both appreciative and very deeply saddened, and the relationship this has the travesty that appears to be happening in the country I left behind. Some days I want to write about food, water, and the realities of poverty, about music, dancing, art and the exquisite array of colors and movement I see around me every day. I want to write about the awesome vacations I have taken and the beautiful relationships I’ve made both within and outside of Peace Corps. I want to note how both exhausting and amazing all of the children are: the anxiety that large groups of them tend to instill in me, and the feeling they give me every single day that my mere existence is so worthwhile. Most days, though, my focus is on how hot it is inside my house, how bored I am in the moment I’m experiencing, or the fact that I often feel like I am accomplishing nothing here. After adequate time to adapt, the day-to-day experience can begin to feel very mundane if you aren’t paying attention, and the things I should be writing about are so easily overlooked. I think I am speaking for most PC volunteers when I say that this rut is inevitable to get stuck in from time to time; and yet, if there is anything I feel the need to write about above all else, the greatest lesson I have learned and the thing that I am reminded every single day of my life here, is the dire obligation we have as human beings to be grateful for the life we have and to appreciate the people in it. I could never express this enough, nor do I think I will ever fully appreciate it, but if I have learned one thing in Mozambique, it is that there is always, always, always something to be thankful for.
So having said all of that, I am here to give you an update of my life; I know it doesn’t have to be so complicated or intricate. I am a dreamer, and sometimes it is easy to get stuck in a world of abstraction, but my hope now is just to craft something tangible, to express in words something that I can then build on. So again, I am terribly sorry for the delay, and also for this grand introduction. I just felt it was important to explain some of the places my mind has been, grappling with the need to share something worthwhile, and my endless search for the truth within this whole unbelievable and unique life experience.
SO WHAT IN THE WORLD AM I DOING?
Excellent question, and one to which I wish I could give you a solid answer. The truth is that my role here is complicated, and one I am still figure figuring out every day. As a Peace Corps health volunteer, we received three months of intensive training about language, culture, various health practices and issues specific to life in Mozambique. However, during that entire process, we were never once told the magic words I have been so longing to here: “Your job is ________.” The truth is that it wouldn’t work. Such a huge part of the mission of the Peace Corps is for individuals to share cultures, ideas, and information in such a way that is helpful for everyone, and because every country, province, and site are so drastically different, a cookie-cutter pattern for the right “job” just cannot exist. My life is here is one part of my job, which is sometimes easy to forget, but I am a volunteer 24/7. My job is to learn, to integrate into my community, to explore what systems exist and what works well, and what areas have room for improvement. My job is to create relationships, to connect, to explore; to share cultural differences and similarities, and to work toward an understanding of what it means to be human. Here I go getting all abstract again. Let’s refocus.
Because I am the first health volunteer at my site, it has been (and still is) extremely tough to find my niche within the health sector. I have participated in a smorgasbord of activities thus far: working with the community activists of circumcision, weighing and monitoring the growth of babies to ensure adequate nutrition, working with activists who focus on testing and adherence to HIV treatment, participated in various support groups, assisted in culinary demonstrations, spent hours organizing documents, assisted in counseling people both before and after getting HIV tested, trained activists in the behavioral impacts of various health practices, organized and filled prescriptions, taught English, taught Portuguese, and list goes on. It seems as if I have been doing a lot, and in some ways I have, but the inconsistency of it all has really taken a toll on my American desire to feel like I am constantly “making progress.”
It has been tough. Really tough. Especially as a foreigner coming in with no real understanding of life, culture, and the systems that have be in place for decades, change is not easy to just come in and start making, and my search for a “job” is still an ongoing process. It is because of this that I do question myself and my value as a volunteer a lot, but if nothing else, I have learned to take great pride in the small successes. It is a daily struggle to feel strong in my role as a health worker, but when I am able to convince one person to get tested, to get them to really believe that their positive diagnosis is not a death sentence, or to understand the importance of educating others about the realities of HIV, I feel successful. The feeling of being heard (especially because my language skills are still an ongoing process) is huge, and it is the thing that keeps me motivated to keep pushing forward. I have a few projects in the works that I will explain once they get going, and when I find my niche, I will let you know. For now, though, my purpose is to just keep moving and to keep growing, to keep doing the doing the best I can to find news ways to serve my community in the most effective ways that I can.
Luckily, I have managed to find some fulfilling work beyond my health placement, though. It has only really come to my attention after moving to Mozambique how widely used and important the English language really is, and after many requests, I finally started a proper English class with a group of people that meets regularly at my hospital. The more I learn about both English and Portuguese, the more I realize how complex languages really are, and also how difficult it can be to be an effective teacher. It is a challenge that I enjoy, and trying lots of different strategies, I am learning more every day about what works and what does not. With no prior experience teaching, I am gaining so much respect for all the great teachers I have had in my life. I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you for your patience and persistence, and for giving tools I needed to be here today. I am sorry that it has taken me this long to realize this, but at least I am still learning, right?
In the same light, I have also recently started working at a new escolinha, or essentially, a preschool in my community. I think that this might be the place I am going to learn and grow the most, where my heart is really going to break from time to time, and where my patience is going to be tested more than ever in my life. Right now my role is to assist in teaching the children, primarily English and Portuguese, but I am realizing slowly that the reality of my role is something so much greater than that. The students in the class vary slightly in age and socioeconomic status, but a number of the children are orphans, and there I have really witnessed some of the realities of poverty and hunger, as well as a complete lack of guidance that is very much evident in some of their behavior. So, if I can in some way provide an element of discipline and structure, while at the same time help to make these children feel cared about, to be an adult they can trust, or someone that can provide a glimmer of light in their lives, I will feel successful. I know it is going to be very emotionally trying working with these kids; working with pre-school aged children is a hell of a task in itself, but working with this particular demographic will be something I will especially have learn to approach intention. It is so important to be sensitive towards vulnerable children, especially those that have like suffered in ways I will never understand, and I think that I am going to be the one learning far more than them in our short time together.
The truth is, though, that these kids are no different than me; we were both just born and told to hit the ground running. I did nothing to deserve the life of privilege, comfort, and love that I was born into. I just won the lottery. They did not. We don’t choose the advantages we are born with, but we can choose what we do with them. I think that those of us lucky enough to be born with an elevated position have a few options, and a decision we need to make right now. We may one, use our advantages to create more advantages for ourselves, two, deny the existence of our advantages, or three, use our advantages to the benefit of others, to provide a voice and an opportunity to those who might not ever get to make this kind of choice. What are your advantages in life? What ways are you choosing to use them?
Just getting to this point in this blog entry has been a hell of a process. I have written so many things that I have ended up just throwing out, and I have intentionally avoided writing about a lot of things as well. I will say, a lot of those have had to do with the American election and new presidency, but I’ve decided it’s just not something I want to get into here (you’re welcome). The truth is, though, that being a Peace Corps volunteer in Mozambique, at least for me, has been a mental and emotional rollercoaster. I feel down and defeated a lot, like I am getting nowhere. I question myself a lot. I feel lonely, stressed, and unmotivated on a number of days, and I want to be clear about this because I know how social media can drastically distort the image of what people are actually experiencing. I don’t want anyone to think this has been easy for me because it is far from the truth. However, I cannot relate more now to the slogan I heard about Peace Corps long before I joined: that it is “the hardest job you’ll ever love.” It rings so unbelievably true for me; I love living here. Like a real, genuine, hard-hitting, messy, emotional, draining, fulfilling, amazing love. I love this country and all of its challenges. I love all of the people I have met, including the ones I don’t. I love the children that exhaust me. I love the time spent alone. I love the language barriers, and pain I feel of missing home. I love the fact that sometimes I feel crazy, and that every day I face has its own challenges. The life I am living, to me, is like an art gallery. A lot of it is ugly, and a lot of it I just don’t understand. A lot of it I walk past without taking the time to really think about, but those pieces of real beauty, those pieces that make you stop everything and allow you to lose yourself for a moment in time, make the whole experience so worthwhile. Those are the ones that inspire people to move mountains, and those are the moments that I hold so dearly.
Mozambique is teaching me every day what it means to be human, the meaning of love and of loss, and is doing so much to shape the person I am becoming. I cannot be more thankful for the experience I am having here, and also for all of the support I have seen from people at home. I am going to really make an effort to be more present and try, in whatever ways I can, to do a better job of documenting this experience because I’m starting to realize more and more that it is not going to last forever. I think often about the things that I am going to miss when I leave this country, and often it actually makes me really sad. There are so many things I will miss so much. But this is the best kind of sadness, the kind of sadness that reinforces the need for gratitude and what it really means to seize a moment. I am here, and I want to be here in all the ways that I can. I’ve got a lot of work to do, but I am on my way.
So there you go, it took me way too long, I know, but I finally got another blog post up. I am going to try to be more consistent with this, but we’ll see how it goes. I tried to attach a bunch of random captioned photos of my experience here, but it turns out I still don’t know how, and don’t have the internet connection it takes to figure it out. Hopefully I will soon, but I decided I would just go ahead and post this before I forget, so feel free to check out my Facebook in photos in the meantime. I did attach below something that I wrote recently and wanted to share, but I just wasn’t sure how to incorporate it here. Anyways, I hope life is going well for you, thanks for reading my blog, and remember to always stay grateful.
Much love and best wishes,
Today was a Saturday like any other. I got to catch up on some sleep, cleaned my dusty house, and of course, played with my new kitten. I didn’t have much in the house to cook for lunch, so I did the something I know I can always do: I went over to a neighbor’s house. After giving me a quick, much needed haircut, she immediately invited me inside to have a delicious lunch that she had spent most of the morning preparing. Even after almost ten months in Mozambique, the generosity of the people I have met still does not cease to amaze me. It is something that I am reminded of every single day here: that you really don’t need to have much in order to give to others. In fact, it often seems as if those who don’t have very much at all are the most willing and eager give that which they do have. We had a beautiful conversation in my broken Portuguese over lunch, and I asked if one day she would be willing to teach me to cook a few new dishes, because my skills as a chef have never been quite up to par. She was so excited by the request and told me exactly which ingredients we will need to get for our first dish. She then proceeded to show me every room in her house and how well-organized everything was, saying that she loves to organize, and she loves helping other people organize, and that if I ever need another haircut, a cooking lesson, help organizing, or literally anything else, her door is always open.
She also said she would love to learn some English or about any kind of American foods that I could show her. She explained that she loves to learn and she loves to teach, because while no one knows everything, everyone knows something, and we all have some part of ourselves that we can offer to one another. She also showed me photos of the her only daughter, that had apparently passed away very shortly before I moved in. I could see the pain that recounting the story brought her, but it was obvious that it was through the strength and support of the other generous people like her that she was able to get through it. She said it was her daughter’s idea to sell the popcorn that she has on her front porch just about every day, for which I am an avid customer, and it serves as a reminder of the sense community she has experienced, always hoping to invite in others to converse and share a piece of themselves with her.
This was just one small example of the kind of people I am surrounded by every day. They remind me what it means to care about one another, to give, to love, and that beyond the boundaries and different boxes we have put ourselves and others in, we are nothing more than brothers and sisters. We all experience moments of joy and moments of pain, moments of fullness, and those in which we feel a little bit empty. It is only when we take the time to recognize the goodness we do have that we will ever actually have the opportunity to share it. We all have something to teach and something to learn. Something to give and something to receive. We all have the capacity to look for out for one another, to show what love means to us, and to bring closer those who are different than us or may be struggling. It is up to us to decide for ourselves that we want to be a part of a movement toward love and understanding, and when do we make the choice to do, slowly but surely, we can change the world.