Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter!

Today is Easter.  Happy Easter, everyone!  

I've always really liked this holiday.  I've never been particularly religious (my family is...well... rather "secular"), so my love for Easter has always been very superficial.  Ever since I was a little girl, I have simply enjoyed the idea of the Easter holiday.  What a joyous and glorious idea it is!  I love the chubby little bunny that hops around, giving away eggs and candy.  I love the pastel colors and the Cadbury treats.  I even love that plastic grass that goes in the bottom of the Easter basket.  What fun!  What a happy, happy day. 

Sadly, Dan was away this weekend and I was feeling a little down.  Rather than lie around in a slump, however, I put a pencil between my teeth (force a smile!) and reached for a pair of scissors and a bag of balloons.  I decided to throw a party.  

I wanted to do a neighborhood Easter egg hunt, but the logistics proved impossibly daunting. With 50 children living within a 50 meter radius and some 500 children living in my bairro, I couldn't find a way to plan it without making it extremely exclusionary.  Instead, I decided to use a few of my endless materials--  scrap paper, stickers, and balloons-- and throw a party for everybody.  

I present to you a cute little post about my Easter holiday...

How to Throw an Impromptu Festival of Recycled Extravagance (in 8 Easy Steps!): 

Step 1:  Prepare!  Get a stack of recycled paper.  Trace bunny ears.  Set aside tape, stapler, and scissors.
Step 2:  Generate Interest.  Wash dishes in your bunny hat.  Pretend that it's totally normal and that, "Everyone in America does this on Easter!"
Step 3:  Advertise!  Get your favorite neighbors in on the action!
(Pictured:  Romao's family with bunny hats and balloons)
Step 4:  Reach a Larger Audience!  Invite the entire neighborhood.
(Pictured:  Some 25% of total participants)
Step 5:  Offer Perks!  Make bunny hats and give out stickers and balloons.
(Pictured:  Jovita (red), Lurdes (yellow), and Tabita (blue))
Step 6:  Take Pictures!  Give everyone a chance to show off their Easter spirit.
(Pictured:  Baby Bunny, Cool Bunny, and Double Bunny)
Step 7:  Play!  Teach a dance, sing a song, and dress up the puppies!
(Pictured:  Marble Rye, Donut, and Pancake wearing bunny hats)
Step 8:  Share!  Happy Easter!  Lots of love from our growing family in Africa.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

An Introduction to Zobue

video

Finally!  This has taken a long, long time, but Dan and I have finally made a video introduction to Zobue.  Before you watch it, I want to give an advisory notice-- it's rather awful!  Video making is not our forte.  Be that as it may, however, we love you and we wanted to try and give you a closer look at our house and our school in Mozambique.  

The entire movie is narrated in Portuguese, but I have added subtitles for your comprehension and enjoyment.  Dan refused to appear in front of the camera and is therefore the one behind the lens.  I, of course, lost the coin toss and appear in all seven minutes of footage.  

Enjoy our little movie.  It was a struggle to make it (as we dodged sudden downpours, karate-chopping kids, and football crowds), but we kind of had fun.  I don't know if I will ever, ever do it again, however.   Photographs are more forgiving.  

Love, 
Lisa and Dan

P.S.  BIG NEWS!  I will now officially announce that the squirming little dog in the ending scene is my grand-puppy!  Bwino is now a proud indifferent father to seven newborn puppies! The one that I am holding is named "Pancake."

Friday, March 22, 2013

Fall Weather

March is a wonderful month in Mozambique  There are several lovely months to choose from (rainy December, chilly July), but March really is my favorite.  I have three distinct reasons for saying this.

1.  Lots of Fruits and Vegetables

I went to the market today and found the following items available:

Tomatoes, Onions, Green Peppers, Hot Peppers, Potatoes, Cucumbers, Cabbage, Corn, Okra, Pumpkins, Avocados, Bananas, and Tangerines.

After three months of rain, the fields are growing and flowering and producing whole-heartedly. What a wonderful time to be living in Zobue!  It's easy to be happy when you're surrounded by food.  Good food.  Healthy food!


2.  Gentle Rains

December was a thrilling month in Mozambique.  Rain appeared out of nowhere and fell for hours and days on end.  Water tore through Zobue-- gutting paths and pouring in through our ceiling. For the first few weeks, it was incredibly exciting.  Zobue burst into color and into life. Then, by February, it became a little tiring.  Rain would fall and fall and fall, showing no signs of stopping.  Mold grew on "dry" clothes in the closet.  Water leaked in around the windows, below the door, and through the roof.  

Then, we entered March.  Suddenly, as soon as they had come, the rains subsided.  Now, the rains fall at an entirely reasonable rate.  Two or three times a week, we will receive a twenty-minute thunderstorm.  It's enough rain to fill up our buckets and replenish our wells, but not so much that life grinds to a sticky, watery halt.  


3.  A Hint of Wintery Chill

The days are still warm, but the nights are becoming crisp.  Last night was the first night since September that I woke up cold and fumbled to turn off the fan.  It's nice to remember that cold is coming-- that it won't always be hot, humid, and heavy forever.

My favorite mornings are the cold ones-- the hot-tea, cook-fire mornings where the kids run around in old winter clothing and ski-caps with tassels.  It's exciting to be in Mozambique in March, watching the slow but inevitable transition of seasons.

End of the Rainy Season

In honor of this new hint of cool weather (nearly 50 degrees this morning!), I give to you my favorite Mozambican Corn Chowder recipe.  With only eight ingredients, it's pretty manageable for even the most reluctant cooks (Mom, ahem, and Grandma, cough-cough).  While this soup is made from mostly local ingredients, I'm sure that it would be just as good with corn from the can!

Ingredients:
  • 2 ears of corn (or, you know, one can)
  • 3 large potatoes, cut into cubes
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 bouillon cube
  • A healthy-sized scoop of butter
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 cup of milk
  • Spices

Instructions:
  • Cut onions and saute in butter
  • Stir until onions are golden, then add 2 cups of water
  • Add potatoes and corn
  • Let water boil, stirring occasionally
  • Add bouillon cube and spices
  • Simmer until potatoes are cooked, then add one cup of milk
  • Stir until almost boiling, then remove from heat
  • Serve!
This can be cooked on an hot-plate, charcoal stove, or a fancy electric 4-burner!  Nobody ever said that Peace Corps Volunteers have to go hungry.  

Cubed potatoes and corn
Onions and butter
Pepper and bay leaf
Simmering
Corn and Potato Soup!
And if your father-in-law happened to send clams in the mail, toss 'em in!
It's a really great addition.  Thanks, Bob!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

How to Visit Your Volunteer

Are you thinking about visiting your volunteer in Mozambique?  Are you interested in going to Africa, but not sure where to start?  This is the post for you.

Welcome to Mozambique

First of all, you are in luck.  You are off to a good start.  You already have a ready-made host and tour guide in the form of your volunteer.   Keep in mind that your volunteer knows:

  • What to see
  • Where to stay
  • How to do things cheaply

Your volunteer has traveled their country from top to bottom, traversing the highs and lows in the most thorough and detailed manner.  Your volunteer has hiked, camped, and hitchhiked exhaustively, all for the sake of gathering and hoarding information.  Which beach?  Which mountain?  Which city?  Your volunteer knows the answers.

So where to begin?  First, consider the following questions:

When can you leave?
What do you want to see?

If you are interested in joining a pre-arranged Lisa-and-Dan tour, there are two scheduled tours leaving in the next eight months:

April 6 – April 21 (approximate):  Victoria Falls Extravaganza 
November 20 – December 5 (approximate):  Madagascar Madness

If you are interested in planning your OWN trip with your volunteer, consider the following destinations:

South Africa
Cape Town, Kruger, and the Drakensberg Mountains

Mozambique
Tofo, Vilankulo, and Ilha de Mozambique

Malawi
Zobue, Blantyre, Zomba, and Lake Malawi


Itineraries are as follows:
Victoria Falls Extravaganza
Wild Animals, Bungee Jumping, 
and the Largest Waterfall in the World!

Meet in Lusaka, Zambia
(Round-trip flight from New York to Lusaka – about $1,500 on April 3 – April 18)
  • Spend one day in Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia
  • Take a bus from Lusaka, Zambia to Livingstone, Zambia
  • Spend four days at Victoria Falls
    • Take a safari
    • Join a sunset cruise
    • Hike around the falls
    • Go bungee jumping
  • Return to Lusaka, Zambia

Options for extension include:  
  • Side trip to Malawi (Lilongwe, Blantyre, and Lake Malawi) 
  • Side trip to Mozambique (Zobue and Tete City)
Victoria Falls
*          *          *          *          *


Madagascar Madness
A lemur adventure!

Meet in Johannesburg, South Africa
(Round-trip flight from New York to JNB – about $1,100 on Nov 20 – Dec 11)
  • Spend two days in Johannesburg
  • Fly from Johannesburg, South Africa to Antananarivo, Madagascar
    • (Round-trip flight from JNB to Tana – about $800 on Nov 22 – Dec 5)
  • Visit the baobab forest in Morondava
  • Hike in the limestone forest at Tsingy National Park
  • Find the lemurs in Andasibe
  • Take a boat across the clear blue water in Diego Suarez
  • Return to Johannesburg via Tana and explore South Africa

Options for extension include:
  • Swaziland
  • Kruger National Park
Baobab avenue in Morondava.  Thanks to Tara Prindiville for the beautiful pictures!
http://taraprindiville.tumblr.com/
Tsingy National Park
Diego Suarez and Emerald Isle.  Thanks again, Tara!
*          *          *          *          *


South African Circuit (East)
Three countries in two weeks!

Meet in Johannesburg, South Africa
(Round-trip flight from New York to JNB – about $1,300 on July 3 – July 17)
  • Rent a car in Johannesburg
  • Climb into the Drakensberg Mountains at Royal Natal National Park
  • Take a day trip into Lesotho
  • Go white-water rafting in Mbabane, the capital of Swaziland
  • Take a safari in Kruger National Park
Hiking in the Drakensberg Mountains
A day trip into Lesotho
Visiting Kruger National Park

South African Circuit (West)
Cape Town and the Garden Route!

Meet in Cape Town, South Africa
(Round-trip flight from New York to Cape Town – about $1,700 on July 3 – July 17)
  • Rent a car in Cape Town
  • Climb (or ride) to the top of the famous Table Mountain
  • Visit the penguins and ostriches along the spectacular Cape Peninsula
  • Watch for mating whales on the cliffs above Hermanus
  • Camp on the beach in Tsitsikamma National Park
  • Consider a foray northwards into the Transkei and Wild Coast
Flora in Cape Town, South Africa
*         *          *          *          *


Mozambique
A tropical paradise!

Meet in Johannesburg, South Africa
(Round-trip flight from New York to JNB – about $1,300 on July 3 – July 17)
  • Travel across the Mozambique border and into Maputo
  • Spend two days exploring the capital city of Mozambique
  • Take a private shuttle from Base Backpackers to Tofo Beach
  • Relax, take a hike, or dive with the manta rays at Tofo Beach
  • Take a bus from Tofo Beach to Vilankulo
  • Visit the archipelago of Bazaruto and take a scuba diving class
  • Return by bus to Maputo or opt for an extension to Ilha de Mozambique
Tofo Beach
Ilha de Mozambique
*          *           *          *          *


Malawi
Visit our hometown!

Meet in Lilongwe, Malawi
(Round-trip flights from New York to Lilongwe – about $2,000 on July 3 – July 17)
  • Travel to Blantyre, Malawi and then to Zobue, Mozambique
  • Stay in Zobue, Mozambique for 3-5 days
  • Return to Blantyre and continue northwards to Zomba
  • Hike the forested Zomba plateau
  • See hippos and crocodiles in Liwonde National Park
  • Visit Lake Malawi in Cape Maclear and Monkey Bay
Cape Maclear, Lake Malawi
*          *          *          *          *


THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

It’s easy to visit southern Africa, but there are a few things to keep in mind. 

1.  Malaria— Mozambique, Madagascar, and Malawi are all considered malarial, as are parts of South Africa.  The easiest way to avoid malaria is to take an anti-malarial medication.  For a two or three week vacation, I would recommend asking your doctor about Doxycycline.  Doxy is a common antibiotic and it is not very expensive.

2.  Visas— South Africa and Malawi do not require Visas for American citizens (read—  free entry!), but Mozambique and Madagascar do.  Visas can be bought easily at the airport for $25 (Madagascar) to $60 (Mozambique).

3.  Transportation— It is possible for visitors to rent a car in all southern African countries, but only South Africa offers reasonable and competitive rates.  Public transportation is a good alternative in some countries, like Malawi and Zambia, where roads are well-maintained.  Only brave and hardy travelers should attempt to use public transportation in Mozambique and Madagascar, where roads are worse and the transportation options are correspondingly less reliable.

*          *          *          *          *

Don’t be nervous.  Your Peace Corps Volunteer is experienced, well-traveled, and competent.  While on the road, your volunteer will simultaneously act as your guide, guard, and textbook.  In just a few weeks, you’ll be at ease in Africa, too!

Whether you are looking for a luxurious and comfortable vacation in South Africa or a rugged foray into Madagascar, southern Africa has a lot to offer.  Make the most of your Peace Corps Volunteer, and have an unforgettable African experience. 

Good luck and happy planning.  We would love to see you soon!

Welcome to South Africa

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Bad Dog!

We have too many dogs.  Officially, of course, we just have one.  His name is Bwino and he is cute and stupid.  He still hasn't figured out how to work our front door and he is easily manipulated by food.  All in all, he is the perfect dog.  Somehow, though, and without meaning to, we seem to have adopted half of the neighborhood.

Bwino (front), Piro, and Zumbo (behind, being very dignified)
Piro and Bwino playing in the front yard

The "adoption" process started with Zumbo, who used to belong to Seni.  Zumbo is probably between eight and fifty years old, has hundreds of scars, and half that many bleeding wounds. He's Bwino's best friend and, despite his age and aggressiveness toward other dogs, is terrified of humans.  Zumbo was disowned by Seni's family about a year ago, and has since been hanging around our yard.  Without any source of food, he has resorted to taking handouts, eating garbage, and killing chickens.  He sleeps on our porch to avoid getting kicked or beaten.  

After Zumbo came Bobinho (Bob-een-yo), then Diana.  Both are frequent visitors and a part of the pack, although neither one of them actually sleeps on our property.  Bobinho belongs to Dashido, and just comes over to play.  Diana belongs to Seni's family, and comes over looking for water.  As the only girl in the pack, she is plagued by constant attention.  

Piro is the youngest and final dog in our noisy gang of front-porch puppies.  Piro (pronounced Pee-roo) technically belongs to Seni's family, too, but, like Zumbo, has been disowned.  

"He likes to nip," says Seni.  "I don't want to be responsible for him."

Unfortunately, this means that nobody is responsible for him.  Without anyone to feed him or care for him, Piro now sleeps in our yard with Zumbo and Bwino.  The three of them spend most of their time chasing chickens, following us everywhere, and creating a nighttime ruckus.  

There are upsides and downsides to this situation.  The good news is that Bwino, Zumbo, and Piro guard our home against thieves.  Nobody can enter our property at night without getting and instant earful of threatening howls.  Unfortunately, they also ward off everybody, indiscriminately.  In addition to chasing off thieves, drunks, and crazies, they have also "defended" us against students, teachers, and toddlers.  Some people are scared to come to our house, and have blamed it on "those dogs."

The bottom line is, we have a lot of dogs.  Some of the dogs are sleepover dogs, and some of the dogs are just visitors.  Only one of these dogs, however, is officially ours, and receives food and vaccinations on a regular basis.  We only ever wanted one, and one is what we have.  But despite best efforts to chase them away, Zumbo and Piro have been working equally hard to make themselves endearing.  Piro has started following me to school and jumping on me when I get home.  Zumbo has been sleeping underfoot and trying to get inside.  They certainly make life more interesting.

To add to the fun, THIS is what we found on our porch this morning:

Imagine opening your front door and finding this pile of vomit staring at you!

Ugh!  What IS it?  After a few minutes of poking and gagging and squirming, Dan and I determined that this object was, at one point, probably a chicken.  Potentially, it could have been a small cat.  We will probably never know, however, because we dumped it directly into the latrine.  A well-aimed flashlight can still catch the glint of the eye at the bottom of the pit.

We hope very much that this was not Bwino's doing.  He eats two large meals a day, after all, and has no reason to kill a chicken.  More likely, it was Zumbo or Piro.  We'll probably never know which, but the pictures below do give us a bit of a hint:    

Zumbo and Bwino: "It wasn't us."
Piro:  "Who me?"  "I don't know what you're talking about."  "Okay, I'll admit it.  I did it."

Just one more eventful day in Zobue!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Salon Lisa

Tabita came into our house the other day, looking for a book to read.  She does this from time to time.  She stood at the edge of the porch and, when we waved her inside, pointed to the back room where we keep our large collection of children's books.  

"Esse livro?"  She asked.  "Esse ler?"  This book?  This read?

Normally, nobody is allowed to rifle through (much less enter!) our house, as it's our own personal sanctuary.  As Romao's seven-year old sister, however, she has more privileges than the other kids in the neighborhood.  I gave her permission to go into the back room and pull out a book.  When she re-emerged, three minutes later, she was carrying eight books and a bottle of blue nail polish.

"Esse livros," she said.  "e esse azul!"  This books, and this blue! 

Tabita flipped through the books for about ten minutes while I got dressed and put up my hair. Then, suddenly, I noticed the smell of nail polish.  I came running into the living room.  Tabita had evidently tired of reading to herself and was now perched at the edge of the sofa, painting her fingers blue from base to knuckle to tip.

"No, Tabita!"  I said.  "That's not how you do it!  And use that outside!  Outside!"  I shuffled her out of the house.  

"Here," I said, settling down on the front step.  "Do you want help painting your nails?"

"Sim," she said.  Yes.

We sat there together, facing one another.  I was crouched down, low, trying to squint and paint within the cuticles.  I was in the middle of my second or third nail when Tabita's older sister showed up to watch.  

"Eu, Lisa," she said.  Me too.

"Sure," I said.  "You're next."

As you can imagine, word spread quickly around the neighborhood.  Suddenly I had ten or twelve little girls begging to get their nails painted.  Even the boys wanted to get "just one or two."  Before I knew it, I was hosting a regular salon.  

It was pretty silly, considering the fact that I don't even paint my own nails.  I was way out of my league, but the girls couldn't tell.  For most of the younger ones, it was their first time wearing nail polish.  

Angelina's first manicure
Blue nails!
Approximately twelve different sets of hands
Tabita shows off her pretty blue nails

It was a cute little Peace Corps moment in an otherwise quiet Zobue weekend.  

Thank you, Chelsea, for bringing that nail polish.  It didn't exactly end up with Rabeca's family, but it is being put to good use!  I'm saving the purple for later.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The God Fiasco

(Or How I Dealt with the Problem of God)

Our landlady has five kids.  

Now, usually, I am fond of children.  I'm the kindergarten-teacher type.  I'm good with constant repetition and runny noses and sticky fingers.  I don't mind the occasional fit or pair of soiled undies.  But, for whatever reason, I've never really warmed up to Marcelina's children. I'm not sure why.  I guess it's because they are simply rather evil.  

We first had a problem with Dashido (also spelled "Tatchito").  He asked to borrow an ankle brace, and then claimed that it was stolen.  Days later, we learned that it was sold.  Sold!  By Dashido!  For profit!  Immediately afterwards, he stole four eggs from the carton on our porch. When our thermometer and cooking spoon went missing two days later, he received a life-long ban from the yard of Lisa Spencer.  To this day, whenever he sees me, he spits and calls me as A'zungu.  

Then Dan found the oldest boy hitting our dog with a hammer (for fun), the oldest girl failed tenth grade and stopped showing up for school, and the littlest one started being really, really bad. Things got ugly, very quickly.  

Case in point:  The God Fiasco

God (or God-ee, as it is usually pronounced) is the youngest of Marcelina's five children.  He is somewhere between five and six years old and is quickly becoming a smirking little hoodlum. His cute face belies the fact that a maniacal brain is plotting within.  

The God Fiasco (Part 1) took place on Friday, February 22nd.  Dan and I left our house to go to the city, and came back home unexpectedly early.  When we returned, we found God standing on our front porch, trying to break in.  The six year old boy was sticking his arms through our metal grate, pushing on the front door with all of his might.  He had seen that we didn't lock our wooden door, and he wanted to get it open.  When Dan and I come into sight, God instantly jumped off the porch and disappeared into the neighborhood.  I was angry, but I wasn't willing to chase him.  

The next day, God left a urine-filled condom directly in front of our concrete front steps.  It was perplexing, shocking, and surprisingly malevolent.  At that point, we let it be known that we were on the lookout for God.  The first child to find him was to bring him to us.  

The God Fiasco (Part II) took place on Sunday, February 24.  Seni appeared on my front porch, holding a screaming God by the crook of his arm.

"Here he is," said Seni.  "What do you want me to do with him?"

God was kicking and screaming, creating a scene.  Unfortunately for him, his loud screams weren't doing him any favors.  His wails were attracting a large crowd of children, who were vying to see what the fuss was about.  The neighborhood kids piled in waves around the edge of the yard.  

"I'll talk to him right here," I said.  "Thanks, Seni."

Without further ado, I took God by the shoulder and led him to the bottom of my concrete front step.  At this point, he was screaming bloody murder, screaming and flapping his arms.  I just stood there with a firm hand on his shoulder and one hand on my hip.  Then I lowered my voice.

“O que é que tens que compreender, God, é que não podes brincar conosco.  Ouviu?  Essa casa aquí é a nossa casa.  Essa quintal?  A nossa quintal.  Nunca mais vais entrar a minha quintal sem pedir liçensa.  NUNCA mais.  NUNCA mais. NUNCA mais.”  

(Read:  "What you have to understand, God, is that you can't fool around with us.  Do you hear me?  This house is our house.  This yard?  Our yard.  You will never again enter our yard without asking permission.  NEVER again.")

And with every "NUNCA," God got a swift spanking on the rear.  Then, I let him go.  Shrieking and hollering, he went tearing out of our yard.  The neighborhood kids were all doubled over, rolling around with laughter.

His mother was angry, of course.  We heard her yelling about us, all throughout the neighborhood.  "THOSE A'ZUNGU," she yelled.  "THOSE UNWELCOME WHITE FOREIGNERS."

But I didn't feel bad in the slightest.  It takes a village to raise a child, you know.  And, as of this moment, I consider myself to be a respected, substantial, decision-making part of this village.  I made my decision to punish God, and I am sticking with it.

God (right) and Junior on the step
God (top) and Dashido
God (right) and the neighborhood kids
Handsome little devil.  I think that this picture sums it up.

Believe it or not, this story does have a happy ending.

Dan and I enjoyed a long and pleasant week.  God was nowhere to be seen. Nobody tried to sneak into our house, and nobody dropped urine balloons on our doorstep.  The "A" word was hardly audible.  Things were finally quiet and calm.

Then, on Friday night, we had an unofficial party.  Dan was playing soccer in the yard with Romao and Seni. A few of the neighborhood girls came over, and, before we knew it, it was a Dance Party Central.  The girls were singing and clapping and the boys were showing off.  The hullabaloo was a wonder to behold.  Even God couldn't stay away.

He appeared at the edge of the yard, peaking around the fence.  He was holding a tire and a stick. Slowly, he moved to the center of the path and stood there, nervous and transfixed.  His tire lay forgotten in his hand. For nearly 20 minutes, he moved neither forward nor backward, standing stock-still at the boundary to our yard.  He didn't dare enter, but he didn't want to go away.

Finally, I gave him a small signal.  God, I decided, had been punished enough.

"Come here," I said.  "Come and play with your friends."

And with a small and nervous smile, God tiptoed into the circle of dancing children.  I smiled at him in return.  And an honest truce was granted.

Friday, March 1, 2013

First Volunteers

It’s amazing that after two years of service—two years of working and walking and living within a community—that just a handful of memories linger beyond the first couple of years.  People remember what they want to remember, and, after time, things get forgotten or distorted.  Two years of service can be boiled down and summarized in a handful of words:  “He always wore a hat,” your neighbors might say, or “She didn’t talk a lot.” 

I remember hearing about one volunteer who lived in the south of the country.  “Oh,” said his co-workers.  “He traveled a lot.  He was never around.”  And, years later, that’s all that they seem to remember.  Another volunteer, a woman, was living next to a family with four small children.  “One time,” said the kids, “She stayed inside ALL DAY.  She didn’t come out, NOT EVEN ONCE!” 

It makes you wonder what they’ll say about you when you leave.  How will your colleagues summarize your short but (hopefully) meaningful presence?  “He built a basketball court,” they will say.  “She taught English, I think.  Maybe computers.  I don’t know.  They liked to passear (walk around).”

Almost everything that I know about the earlier volunteers in Zobue comes from the meager information supplied by teachers and neighbors in the bairro.  Here is what we have heard about each of our six predecessors:

Chelsea (2006-2007):  Brunette.  Taught English.  Brought the white measuring cup from America.  Gave our next-door neighbor a blanket when she left.

Katie (2006-2007):  Brunette.  Taught Biology.  Used to run.  Liked to take pictures. 

Joy (2008):  Asian.  Once cried in class.  Switched sites after one year.

Angelina (2008-2009):  Blonde.  Well-loved.  Always smiled.  Had her phone stolen in a chapa.  Did not climb all the way up the mountain.

Lucas (2010-2011):  Male half of married pair.  SPOKE CHICHEWA.  Liked church.  Did housework.

Janet (2010-2011):  Female half of married pair.  Let Lucas do dishes.  Wasn’t afraid to scold children.  Outspoken.  Taught French. 

There is more, of course.  Everybody seems to remember something different.  It just depends on who you ask, or who feels like talking. 

This weekend, we received a visit from the first two Zobue volunteers, Chelsea and Katie.  Chelsea was in Maputo, traveling for the World Bank.  Katie was in Malawi, working in a hospital north of Lilongwe.  Both girls collaborated and, with a little bit of luck, were able to orchestrate a weekend visit to Zobue.  It was incredibly exciting for Dan and I and probably very meaningful to both of the girls.  It had been more than five years since they had left Zobue, in late 2007. 

A lot has changed since they last lived here.  Romao and Seni have both grown up (Romao wears a ring now, Seni actually speaks Portuguese).  Babies have been born.  Toddlers have become people.  Teachers have transferred out and others have transferred in. 

To Chelsea and Katie, their visit must have been a surreal experience.  Outwardly, Zobue is very much the same.  The mountain is still here.  The road is still here.  The school is still here.  Millions of little things have changed, though.  The trees are taller.  The kids are taller.  Paths have moved and houses have been built.  Imagine how strange it must feel to barely recognize the same town that you yourself called home for two entire years. 

The girls organized a reunion with one of their old students, Taurai, who is now a third-grade teacher on the border of Mozambique and Zambia.  They also visited the school, talked to most of the teachers, and finally got to see the computer lab that they were responsible for funding.  They visited with Marcelina (the landlady) and Marta (the next door neighbor).  They brought presents and toys for the neighborhood kids, and spoiled them unabashedly.

When they left, Seni drew a picture and left a note for Katie:

Dear Keti,” it read.  “Thank you for visiting Zobue.  It is good to see you.  I will be sad when you go back to America because then you will be back in America.  – Arsenio Julio Sardinha


Chelsea (left) and Katie in front of their computer lab.  The room was
 inaugurated in April 2008, just four months after they left.
A rather awkward Zobue family photo:  Dan, Katie,
 Chelsea, Taurai, Tabita (not smiling), Seni, and Romao

For the girls, I think that it was touching to see the school and the computer lab still in operation.  They enjoyed seeing Seni and Romao “all grown up,” and visiting some of the other neighborhood kids.  For Dan and I, it was simply valuable to discuss Zobue and to realize that our current struggles were their one-time struggles, too.  It is heartening to realize that our Peace Corps support system stretches all the way back to the very first volunteers from Zobue.  

I wonder if Dan and I will ever come back to visit.  Will I return one day, with my own baby strapped to my back, and revisit this little yellow house?  Who will still be here?  Who will have moved on?  Who will have died?  It’s moving and painful and scary, all at the same time.