Lake Malawi

Lake Malawi

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Rainy Season Take Two


I don’t know where the last 6 months went, it’s somehow mid February and I’ve got less than 6 months left in country, which seems like a very small amount of time to accomplish what I still have planned for the rest of my service. I have been absent from the blogosphere because the internet at the hospital in Maganja has been down since about September, and whenever it’s fixed a lightning storm hits and the internet is down in less than 24 hours.
Speaking of storms I’ve found myself internally displaced here within Zambezia since the 8th of February. It all happened rather quickly, I had woken up around 6am as I normally do; cat in the window meowing, or howling rather, to be let in, children outside in my yard bickering while sweeping the sand, sun streaming through the grates in the windows, giving me no choice but to leave my bed and begin my morning routine. My morning chores take up a good hour to an hour and a half every day depending on how lazy I was the day before and how much dirty laundry I have. I sleepily open the door and feel rather than see my cat slink past my ankles and fly onto the bed to begin his morning routine as well. On the veranda I give my thermometer a sideways glance and see that it’s already 30 degrees Celsius, not a good sign for the rest of the day. For the past month I’ve been sleeping on my veranda because my house becomes an oven with my tin roof, and at least on the veranda I can feel some breeze. I can also feel cockroaches on my legs, mosquitoes buzzing in my ears, and hear drunken men peeing in my flower bed, but for a difference of 10 degrees in temperature, I’ll deal.
After washing my face  in cold water I go back inside and wrap myself in the capulana that I only use for housework/house-wear, pull my hair that’s already sticking to my neck into a ponytail, and give my cat a  playful slap on the butt with which he responds with a sleepy “mrowww” and head out the door.  I grab my two tanks of water that I need to fill and the pail of water I use for washing dishes and walk to the well that’s across our yard. The sun is already saying “get wrecked, white girl”, and I feel the sweat beading on my forehead before I even make it to the well. At the well there’s already the normal morning crew of young girls with their little buckets to fill for baths and heating water. I sit on one of my jugs and Marioneta, my little two year old neighbor bud, climbs onto my lap, filthy with mud, and practically bouncing with excitement to greet her “tia tanneee”, girl has problems with her “C”s, but I’ve taught her how to high five and give a thumbs up so I think she’s still got a leg up on the other two year olds in the MDC. The other three girls who live in my compound are having their usual argument about who didn’t wash the dishes last night and who swept the dirt in the yard in a nicer pattern than the other, all the while hauling buckets of water out of the well with their scrawny arms swinging at full force. After about 15 minutes they clear out and I step up to fill up my water. As I’m pouring the jug of water that I hauled out of the well into my other tank I notice that the wind has picked up and the water I’m carefully and normally deftly pouring into my jug is being  spilled everywhere due to the blustery wind. I look up into the sky and see that the bright blue has changed into a cloudy gray, and after living here for almost two years I know how to spot a brewing storm, especially after surviving the cyclone last year in January. I finish filling up my  water and lug it back to my house, trying not to slosh too much out of the pail that I’ve yet to be able to balance on my head without completely dumping everywhere much to the delight of my neighbor girls.
I wash my dishes from last night’s dinner outside in my two plastic buckets, capulana tucked between my legs so as not to get wet, half listen to Miracia’s one sided conversation about her first grade teacher not allowing her to use crayons to write her homework assignments  and also keeping an eye on the darkening sky. Then just as I had expected, I hear my phone ringing inside. I wipe my wet hands off on Miracia’s skirt as she tries to escape my sudsy grip and head inside. It’s my safety and security officer calling. After 5 minutes on the phone with Aflredo I’m already making calls to FGH to see if I can get a ride to Quelimane the next day as PC wants me to leave Maganja to wait out the storm, unlike last year when I was called after the storm had begun and the road was not passable, leaving me in the MDC during the cyclone.
I find out luckily that our car is in Maganja and I can get a ride the next day to the city. I spend the day weather proofing my house to the best of my ability. Buckets strategically placed, mattresses all pulled away from the windows, glass panes shut on the outside. My cat, sensing the change in the weather and the preparation of my departure winds himself around my legs pathetically mewling and giving me accusing looks already knowing I’m about to abandon him with my neighbors.
The rain started in the afternoon and continued all night, and was strong enough that at one point around 3am I woke up because it sounded like someone was dumping millions of marbles onto my tin roof; if someone was talking to me in the same room I doubt I would have heard a single word. Ever since the cyclone last year I have had an odd fear of torrential downpours, maybe it’s because houses were collapsing around me last year and my house was taking on water, I’m not sure, but I didn’t sleep easy the rest of the night.
The FGH driver came to get me the next morning, Senhor Adamo, quite possibly one of my favorite people in Maganja. He’s perma-happy. I’ve never seen the man cross, not one day, and he goes out of his way to keep an eye on me and make sure I’m doing okay out here on my own, making him more than ok in my book. We drove out of Maganja and the road was already abysmal, with rivers of water running down either side, all the water under the bridges was much higher than the normal level, and at one point on the road a fair amount of water was crossing it, so I was glad that I was getting out of there. Unfortunately this was 14 days ago and I’m still in Quelimane..
After I left Maganja the rains continued and got worse, one of the bridges washed out, and the bridge past Maganja was flooded with water passing over it completely due to the swollen river. I’ve been living in a colleague’s house and hanging out with expats all week, trying to stay busy at the FGH office so I don’t go stir crazy. One day here the rains started at 12 and poured until 3pm without letting up. Myself and another PCV here in Quelimane decided we wanted chocolate and something salty from the gas station and asked her host-sister for a ride. We drove towards that side of the town and realized that the situation here in Quelimane was no joke, the water on the street was waist deep, with people slogging through the dirty water ,shoes in their hands, toddlers on their shoulders, some people still trying to bike  through the water. Cars were making waves and leaving wakes behind them, luckily her host sister drives a giant truck so we didn’t have to worry about killing the engine or getting stuck, but it was a sight I’d never seen before, city streets flooded with water and crowds of people making for higher ground. We made it to the gas station and hopped out to buy our snacks. Inside while paying I heard some man on the phone saying “Well the bridge to Maganja is already out, so I’m not going there today.” I then went back to the cooler and added a rather tall can of beer to my purchases and tried to make peace that I wasn’t going back to the MDC any time in the near future.
The new Clinical Director of FGH also happened to be in Quelimane this past week and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise that I’ve been trapped here as it gave us an opportunity to work together and try to design a project for my last six months here. It was wonderful talking with someone with FGH who for once took me seriously as someone that could do something positive in the district, and we made a project proposal to do community theatre with the associations I work with to raise awareness about the new service expansion for ARVs in my district. The only downside was she then wanted me to present our proposal at our annual staff meeting that was occurring on Friday…in Portuguese.  After a sleepless night and making my colleague listen to me practice a gazillion times I was able to not choke during my presentation and was told I did just fine despite having to use a microphone and speak in front of about 100 people, but it was pretty cool seeing my name on the agenda with the rest of the big cheeses.
 And even with all the stress of being away from site and worrying about my house and the flooding and when I might make it back, I’ve been enjoying a nice mental holiday since being in Quelimane, which is always necessary, especially during the last haul of my service, which has allowed me the space to think about what I might want to do after my time here in Mozambique is done.  After some serious contemplation I arrived at the conclusion that I could see myself extending six months to continue with the project and work that I’m currently doing. This was at first surprising for me, I never saw myself as someone that might think about extending, but at the same time I have no idea what I’m doing upon my return to the States so it strangely seems like the safer option, staying here in rural Mozambique instead of facing Americaland, and I’m also not sure I’ll be able to finish the new project we just finished drafting in the time I have left, as well all know things take a little longer to accomplish here..
At the same time there are also lots of things here that I am just plain tired of and want to never have to deal with again in my life. Living in a fishbowl has become exhausting. Some days it doesn’t bother me, other days I literally want to rip my hair out and stomp like a two year old that isn’t getting her way. To be invisible again, to blend into a crowd, to not be scrutinized and the center of gossip or constantly judged and also chided for being different, and sinking my teeth into a bacon cheeseburger, are all things I am definitely looking forward to. The male oriented society has worn me out. When male colleagues whom I know have a 12th grade education tell me that “this job is really complicated, I’m not sure you’ll be handle it” I want to literally slam my head against the wall repeatedly because it would be more pleasurable than tolerating the insinuation that my intelligence simply does not compare to their own vast wealth of experience and knowledge.
But for all the male chauvinism and being stared at, there are countless things that I know I will miss for the rest of my life. Sitting outside on my straw mat with my Dona talking about her rice garden and her children and grand children, sharing a cold beer and watching her smoke her cigarette backwards, still baffled by how that even works. Laying out with the girls as they color in the coloring books and feeling their little hands play with the hair on my arms and shyly asking questions about whether or not I have a boyfriend and letting them tie knots and put braids in my giant frizzy hair. I’ll miss their laughter and how they all run up to meet me at the well whenever I’m coming home from being away and surround me in a sweaty hug .  I’ll miss the smell of sautéing onions and tomatoes, even beans, on my little coal stove at night, and sitting outside under the stars cooking with my neighbors, with my cat sniffing around for handouts. I’ll miss my little house and how I’ve turned it into my home,  how within these walls I’ve grown and changed and come into the person that I think I’ve always known I could be. I’ll miss the relationships I’ve made among community members and in my neighborhood, and the simple silence that can be shared between two friends. I’ll miss the laidback nature of the mato, napping under the mango tree during the heat of the day or working in the garden in the early morning when it’s still misty and the sun has yet to penetrate through the clouds. I will miss my Paco and how he wanders into my house and watches me with his seriously large eyes until I find him a cookie which he solemnly takes, kisses my cheek and runs out the door with his cookie held up high like a prize. I’ll miss hearing the call to prayers in the mornings and evenings and seeing people in their Muslim garb, I’ll miss the gangs of children running around chasing tires with sticks and dirty with mango juice faces. I’ll miss walking through the sugarcane fields to do home visits and seeing the giant eucalyptus trees and vines that cover them bursting with color and life.  But most of all I’m going to miss the sense of community and belonging that I have cultivated during my time here through all the relationships I’ve made, the time spent sitting around talking about nothing, and all the little acts of kindness that I have witnessed as a complete outsider, who has finally started to begin to feel a little less on the outside.

1 comment:

  1. 30 degrees celsius at 6am, ouch. I am happy to be at the other end of the celsius scale!

    Reading your blog is like being transported without having to deal with the actual heat. I enjoyed this one in particular. Your sense of community is something I feel living in Norway, Maine. It is truly a gift and surprises me constantly the power we have to make a difference. It takes patience and time, but it can happen anywhere. Although you have made a place for yourself there, you will find that place again. The people of your community there will always be a part of you no matter where you end up. You have made your mark on those children and their families that you have touched during your time in their village.
    Stay safe in your remaining time. It was great being with you in December! Love you, B

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