I created a group called JUNTOS (Jovens Unidos no Trabalho para Oportunidades e Sucesso) (or in other words Youth United in the Work for Opportunity and Success) with a fellow community member in my town. We have a handful of young adults all between the ages of 18 and 21 and we get together about once a week. We like to set aside at least 30-60 minutes during each meeting in order to discuss at least one controversial topic that the members would like to learn more about. The purpose of this activity is to create a safe environment for the young adults to discuss sensitive subjects among themselves. The monitors, myself and my counterpart, are there to gear the conversations towards healthy and productive debates, and to answer any questions that we can. The goal is to open the members' horizons beyond assumed truths and falsehoods so that they in turn learn to advocate behavior change in their communities.
During one particular meeting a soft-spoken male requested the day's topic be homosexuality, which is a great subject to discuss because it fulfills the requirement of being a taboo topic that is not usually brought up in public. The discussion went very well for the first 10-15 minutes and the members of the group discussed what homosexuality is, if it's a product of society or something innate in a person, the life of a homosexual person in Mozambique, etc.
Another member of the group arrived late and joined the discussion at this point. The late-coming member is usually one of the more boisterous participants and in past discussions he would usually sway other club members towards his opinions. His “honcho” personality had never caused any problems in the past in mine and my counterpart's opinions since it always appeared that all the other club members were in fact in agreement with him.
I did not, however, realize that this member was a very staunch religious individual and that his religion was in fact one of the more vocal groups in our community against homosexuality.
When the late-comer joined in the debate I was shocked to hear his views on homosexuality and feared he might undo the progressive and open-minded attitude the debate had taken up until this point. Or worse yet, that the negative intonation of this new viewpoint might dissuade members like the soft-spoken boy who offered the topic from voicing future opinions or even attending JUNTOS meetings at all. Just as I was starting to jump into the conversation and steer it in a different direction one of the female members who barely ever talks spoke up. She proudly defended the previous viewpoint and also explained to the late-comer why the group as a whole had come to that opinion before he had arrived. The group then continued on with a very positive and productive discussion on the rights of a homosexual couple to have children or get married and how to support any friends or family members they may know who are homosexual but afraid to tell their families or community members.
Although not everyone agreed with all the subject matter posed, the group as a whole was able to respect one another's opinions and have a healthy and productive conversation about a very sensitive subject. I congratulated the members at the end of the discussion and explained that these are the exact skills they will need to carry with them out in the community if they want to accomplish real behavior change: patience, respect, understanding and courage to stand up against the status quo.
Sunday, April 28, 2013
“No, no, no. You don't understand. Maybe that's the way you do thing in your country but here we do it this way....”
I don't think this is a characteristic exclusive to any one country, in fact I'm pretty sure that every community in every country thinks that they are in one way or another unique and special from the rest of that wide, barbarous world out there. It's not xenophobia, just an elevated self-worth which, in moderated quantities, really is quite healthy. Up to a point. For there are certain things in this world that in fact are NOT done differently in different parts of the world. Like science (the chemistry of cooking isn't dependent on your language), math (no matter where you were born, to find the percentage of a number you have to multiply by the percentage, not divide), and some universal terminology...
I had a bit of a skiff with my organization this week when we were preparing a big report of all the work they've realized since their funding in 2005. I don't know how I'd missed this up until now, but when we were gathering the data of their clients I asked them to explain to me how they came to each number for each trimester, and there arose a small hitch in their reporting techniques. They have 4 trimesters. No, not 4 quarters, but TRIMESTERS. But they never talk about the 4 trimesters out right, they only ever talk about the 1st, the 2nd, and “the last” (since evidently the 3rd is just included into the last, which is another problem in of itself.) When I tried to explain that “trimester” by definition means that there are 3 equal parts of the whole they simply shook their heads and said “no, no, no Emily. Maybe where you're from trimester means 4 months but here in Mozambique a trimester means 3 months.” I drew out pie charts and tables and explained the differences between trimesters and quarters, giving different examples like the school calendar (where in fact there are 3 months periods since they only work 9 months out of the year).... nope. They all just laughed and continued with their head shakes. I called 2 fellow peace corps volunteers just to make sure I wasn't going crazy, and finally, I called in the highest hospital staff member in our hospital, university educated and all, to come over and clear the air. Well didn't I look stupid to my coworkers when he said, “of course, trimester means 3 months (tri means 3 of course) so in complete the year we have 4 of them.”
Ultimately, we agreed to disagree, removed all talk of trimesters from the report citing instead the yearly totals, and rain-checked the debate for a later date when there wasn't a report deadline looming above our heads. Not sure how successful I was that day in human capital and organizational development, but the argument was a reminder that even though hings aren't always as easy as I may hope I can't allow that to discourage or impede me from doing my job.
And the luta continua of trimesters vs quarters!!!
Posted by JUNTOS Morrumbene at 5:05 AM
Sunday, February 10, 2013
I know I know I know. I've neglected my fan base here, my deepest and most sincere apologies world wide web for leaving you bereft ;)
I don't even remember when the last time I wrote here was... oof!
In my defense I THOUGHT about writing blog posts here and there. Maybe I'll write mini posts now in honor of all the ideas that never flowered into real-life blogs... yes. That's what shall be done.
Sometime back in November 2012
I'd started a mini running group with a Mozambican friend and the other foreigner in my town. Granted it didn't survive past the year but at least for a few exuberant (albeit short-lived) weeks I was running regularly with running buddies! My greatest triumph was that I'd finally penetrated the jungle that is the residential part of town (or in other words, everywhere that isn't the main road.) There are no road names, no roads really, just a huge tangled web of dirt paths that weave their way from here to there and then back again. It's impossible to know how to get from one place to another unless you're with someone who can lead you through the maze (or have a compass). I'd always itched to lose myself in the labyrinth but was a little apprehensive about where I'd turn up so had never gotten around to exploring.... however with two people somehow any and all fears usually just melt away. So me and my running buddy would run and sprint and leap through the maze in the morning hours until we'd tumble out into a road we recognized – and then would dive back in head first :) Although our running group has fallen apart I have faith that we'll start up again soon (I'm quite persistent about finding workout buddies, inherited my nagging from my mama :)
During the December holidays
Mozambique loves the December holidays, so much so that they basically close down all organizations and jobs and work in any shape or form for the entire month of December. No joke. In light of our additional free time (as if we didn't have enough of it to begin with) one of my Peace Corps friends and I decided to travel around a little bit during the holiday season. I think I'd mentioned once before how the public transportation system here is a little lacking, in the sense that it doesn't exactly exist. There are private enterprises though - never fear! We'd pile into minivans and buses with double the amount of people than they should be capable of holding, along with goats (either tied to the roof or stuffed under luggage in the aisle), chickens (either loose or in boxes), and bags and boxes and crates and cases.... I learned some very valuable travel lessons during that month:
- never ever expect to get to your destination in the time frame you expected. Take the amount of hours it should take to arrive, double it and then cross your fingers and hope you're lucky enough to arrive at all
- always have plan B's – aka the phone numbers of other volunteers en route to where you're trying to go
- There is no shame in calling down another ride that appears to be going faster whilst currently on a ride. I thought for sure the driver would take offense the first time I did that, but he just shrugged and pulled over to let me out while the other vehicle waited for me to transfer.
- Cars and vans and buses and trucks BREAK DOWN. All the time. So bring a book, lots of sun screen and an endless supply of patience.
- The drivers of cars and vans and buses and trucks LIE. Not in malicious way, just an inconvenient one. Beware: when they say they're going to destination C but they may only get as far as destination A and change their mind because they no longer feel like driving any further. Or they get to B and all of a sudden decide they feel like going to Destination 5 instead, no matter that it may be in the complete wrong direction.
Some of my favorite moments from our travels that month included lying on an empty highway with no cars in site. There were so many blue butterflies around us it reminded me of autumn when my father would blow up the leaves in our yard with his leaf blower thingy. The sky was the perfect blue, the way a sky should always look. And there were little puffy cumulus nimbus clouds drifting by that I watched while lying on the road waiting and waiting and waiting for another car to pass us by.
Or another time when we sat on the back of a pick-up truck; the sun had just gone down and as the first stars began to peek out I called out in excitement that I saw a shooting star! And then another, and another and.... oh wait. When the truck had slowed down for a speed bump we realized that they weren't shooting stars at all, but fire flies. And my goodness, I have never in my life seen so many fire flies as I did that evening. It seemed like clouds of them and they never dispersed after dusk as the fire flies of my childhood had always done. They stayed for what felt like hours and twinkled in the trees and hills just like the stars above.
I spent Christmas proper on a beautiful beach with some good friends (fellow volunteers), a cold beer and my toes digging in the sand :)
This first month of 2013
Not much has happened this month. My birthday came and went – I'd spent the day fighting with corrupt officials and paying unjust fines up the wazoo for some packages I'd received from beloved friends and family back in the states (please please please never write the total value of any package as $50 or above!) Corruption sometimes can't be avoided in some parts of the world, it was a shame that the first time I encountered it in the beautiful country happened to fall on my birthday but what are you going to do :P
We got rain and rain and a little more rain this month. I had tin cans and tupperware containers all over my house to catch the stead streams but it didn't stop half of my worldly possessions from growing a nice lovely fur cat of mold. All this rain is also bringing out the big scary bugs, and my adoring kitty has developed a new habit of catching these huge scary monsters and carrying them inside my house whilst still alive to play with them inside. He must have not gotten the memo of his job description.
Speaking of, I discovered last week that Charlotte is a boy (!!) so little kitty is going to need a new name. I think he'll just stick with his original name – Pip. Even though he no longer cries like a pin prick, he still loves the sound of his own voice (much to my dismay at 3am at night) so Pip will still suffice. He's also been mastering the art of climbing. I made the mistake of letting him through the window the other day and the next evening I followed the sound of muffled meows to find him stuffed and stuck between the grate and screen of a window (he didn't realize that this one wouldn't swing open when he pushed until too late). He hasn't tried any more windows since... Now instead of crawling under the reed walls of my bathroom to take baths with me he takes the more dignified route of climbing up the wall and waiting for me sprawled out on the door frame. The irst few times he did this he couldn't get down though so I had to climb up in my towel and carry him down. Kitty is still as little as ever, still likes to sit on my shoulders when I wash dishes outside, and is currently dozing on my lap while I write (actually with all this twitching and jumping he must be dreaming of catching another monster insect).
Well that's all I got folks. I hope it will suffice! Tomorrow morning I'm going to try for the Nth time to have cement put inside my walls (every time I'm about to do it the carpenter doesn't show up, or the heavens open and pour buckets of water down from the sky). If I wait any longer though the cement bags I bought will dry up so hopefully I'll have wet cement in my house by February! That also means though that I have to move all of my kitchen items int my bedroom tonight sooooo.... ate o proximo!
Big hugs and kisses (and a few extra to those who remembered me during the holidays and my birthday – it means the world to me & I'll be sending my thank you letters soon enough :)
ps: also found out that the big banging on my roof is actually from an avocado tree! And better yet, they're finally ripe!!! Needless to say, I've been eating a lot of guacamole since this new discovery
pps: have delved into the Game of Thrones book series this month – am just starting the 5th and really enjoyed the series so far (the books are huge but easy to read and even easier to fall into if you're in need of a diversion.) I warn you though that the last 2 books are yet to be written/ released so if you're like me and are not a fan of waiting years for sequels don't tempt yourself.
Posted by JUNTOS Morrumbene at 1:11 PM
Sunday, December 2, 2012
What is this foreign sensation of being busy??
Monday nobody was at work so I spent another lazy day at home drawing a picture and fixing some things up around the house – just another start to a typical week.
On Tuesday someone (aka the only person who shows up) mentioned that we should maybe start planning for AIDS day. I asked when that was, to which he casually responded: this week. I asked what exactly we need to plan, to which he responded with a slew of activities/ events/ projects. So in the course of 3 days we: pulled together the funds; made and coordinated our program with the hospital, government, and education system; purchased the materials for a march around the town with candles, painting the trees in town, a running contest, a soccer contest, a jeopardy contest, and a lunch for 100 people; wrote a speech for the whole town; planned a HIV/AIDS training for the whole town; made banners; among other seemingly impossible feats.
This wouldn’t have been nearly as difficult if our president who usually runs the show wasn’t sick in hospital, if our second in command wasn’t also sick and barely available, if our main supervisor wasn’t busy this week giving vaccines with the hospital around the district, and if 2 of our other supervisors didn’t have young children with malaria. Not to mention that conveniently the focal person in the government is sick at home, the focal person in the education department is also sick at home, and hey! it’s the week-of and unsurprisingly the hospital and education department also are just planning their programs alongside us. SO! Basically it’s the last possible minute and nothing is planned – welcome to Mozambique J
For the past few days me and my organization’s accountant (seeing as we are the only healthy and sick-children-free individuals) ran around our entire district pulling all of these loose strings together. Between attending a funeral for the half the day on Wednesday morning for one of our supervisors, spending all Thursday afternoon in the hospital with a supervisor and her young child with a high fever and malaria, and visiting our organization’s president every evening in a hospital a few towns away… Also managed to squeeze in a meeting with a private business that’s interested in donating food to our OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children) – pretty excited about that possibility. Needless to say, we’ve had our hands full this week.
I’d forgotten what it feels like to actually be busy!! It’s awesome, and I’ve taken the liberty of all these things falling on my organization’s plate to let me full OCD planning beast out on them by making excel sheets and to-do lists galore! I swear, next year I’m forcing all the chefes of this town to sit down together a month in advance to discuss the programs for this event because there are way too many individual actors for this event to happen successfully when nobody talks with one another.
I’ll try to attach photos of the events from this week J
sleepy and sore Emily
Posted by JUNTOS Morrumbene at 8:54 AM
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
I want to make sure I document those moments I’m overwhelmed with emotion, be them feelings of gratitude for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity or feelings of pure insanity wondering how anyone in their right mind would opt voluntarily to do what I’m doing. So here goes:
Those moments to cherish
Those things I could happily live without
Ok, that’s all I have for the time being, but now that I’ve started the list it’ll be easier to add on to it whenever a new love/hate moment pops into my mind.
Hope you enjoyed reading about the joys and tribulations of my life in Mozambique!
Posted by JUNTOS Morrumbene at 7:52 AM
Some of you may recall that I had mentioned a few posts ago that my neighbor’s cat had given birth to 3 kittens, and that one of these kittens had been promised a home with yours truly. Well, at long last the time had finally come for my neighbors to get rid of the little rascals so they called me over to pick up my new child. I never really had a choice in which kitten I would adopt (which was probably a good thing considering my debilitating indecisive nature). You see, between the 3 kittens there were 2 white ones and one little black one… I was given the little black ball of fur.
That first night was rough. I know that the first night a new kitten or puppy is taken away from the only home they’d ever known and their family is supposed to be hard, but I’d vastly underestimated how much more difficult it would be when you live next door to the kitten’s first home. Needless to say that within the first hour of bringing my new baby girl home (at least I think the kittens a she….) her mother heard her crying and stationed herself on the other side of my reed walls. Hour. After. Hour. I had to watch this poor baby kitty cry her eyes out for her mama who was just out of reach wailing for her baby on the other side of my porous walls. I tried to return the kitten to my neighbors but they refused to take her back so quickly, wanting me to wait a few days before I make up my mind. I spent a good deal of that first night (and the following few ones afterwards) trying to calm her down but those high pitched squeaking cries of hers never waned. I have rarely in my life felt like a villain, but that night was one of those nights I could imagine myself in a Cruella Deville get-up crackling evilly.
Anyways, you know that saying: “if you can’t beat them join them”? By Day #2 I went against everyone’s warnings and let mama cat come in to be gloriously reunited with her stolen baby. Touching eh? Except, sadly, the moment the mama ran into my house and spotted the bowls of milk, shrimp + rice, dry kitten food, etc. lying on the floor, well, I guess you can say her priorities changed. Instead of running to the kittens rescue she made a B-line for the food, and (yea it gets worse) when the lil’ baby came to her mama herself she was rudely hissed at and swatted away. Big mama became territorial. To make matters worse, the neighbor’s cat decided right then and there that I was her new best friend and put on her cat-charm full force: purring, rubbing against my legs, trying to get me to pet her and jumping to sit on my lap, etc. Now I’m not saying that I’m prejudice against older cats and only like kittens, no no no. It was just that I was still seeing this whole debacle through the lens of a Disney movie starring my poor baby. Now, not only has the evil human stolen the poor little kitten out of the safe warm confines of her home, she’s (inadvertently since I really didn’t mean to do this!) turned the kitten’s sole rescuer against her. HER OWN MOTHER! I sat there petting mama cat while poor baby kitten watched from the adjoined room, and every time the kitten would crawl over to her mama the heartless feline would hiss her away. Heartbreaking, I know.
Anyways, that dry cat food for kittens was pretty darn $$ (about a day’s salary) so eventually I stopped feeding mama Cat, which was fine by me now that I knew she was crying outside my door for the food in little pip squeak’s bowls and not to console her terrified baby. I gladly took over the mama role with the baby kitten, and by the end of the 1st week little miss meowmers was eating dry food, using her kitty litter box, and purring when I pet her (which is still kind of hard because her entire body can fit in 1 hand.)
It’s been a whole 2 weeks now and Pip (short for Pip Squeak) and I are just 2 peas in a pod – except maybe our sleeping schedules, still need to work on syncing those up. I’ll post a picture of her on the blog as soon as I can get her to sit still long enough to take one J
Ate o proximo!
Posted by JUNTOS Morrumbene at 7:48 AM