I realized I am cutting it very close to not making my monthly blog quota, so another dose of Laurie and Chris’ adventures are coming at ya! The good news is that a lot has happened in the past month and a half, so I won’t bore you with filler material. No, instead I’m going to tell you about the end of our first trimester, a visit from Chris’ cousin, Passover #2 in the bush, and a reunion with my dad in Lisbon. Get excited, people!
We finished our first trimester of school with little fanfare, which is good because we officially feel like we know what the heck is going on now. All the standard administrative stuff, although tedious when not using a computerized system like a developing country would, is now second nature. Instead of being taken aback with a one day notice that provincial exams would happen, we planned our classes with the assumption our last couple weeks of the trimester would be a wash do to standardized testing. And the ridiculousness of the tests themselves, well, where do I begin? The content rarely includes topics on the government issued curriculum even though it is the government who is administering these tests. Huh? How are teachers supposed to know what to teach then? And the content is so high above the student’s level, it’s just silly. For example, the 11th grade provincial exam for English had a reading passage about the complexities of green energy and biofuels, which I was having trouble understanding even as a native English speaker! Ok, but enough of my bitching. Really the point that I am trying to make is that despite the head-scratching things we’ve faced in the Mozambican school system, at least we know what to expect. And really, that has been the theme for us during this second year of service. Our living situation, our job, our life has just become so normal. I’ve realized that no matter how nutty or different it may be, your life simply becomes your life once you get used to it. But then an outsider comes along prompting you to think that indeed, it is not normal to view the stunning Indian Ocean on a weekly basis or to ride in public transportation with live chickens. Jess, Chris’ cousin, reminded us of that when she came for a visit at the end of March. She was lucky enough to be placed in Mozambique for a few weeks to finish up her medical school requirements. Although her assignment location was at a hospital in the capital, Maputo, she still wanted to make the 10 hour bus trip to see us. So for her first time in Africa, she braved getting on a 4am bus where no one was speaking English in a completely unfamiliar country. Man, she is a trooper! As a side note here though, she probably could win an award for the number of family members who have served in the Peace Corps which includes her mom, sister, aunt and uncle (Chris’ parents), other uncle (her mom’s bro) and her cousins (Chris and I) and I am probably forgetting someone. But you get the idea that Peace Corps is kind of in her blood so maybe that’s why she was so low key about this kind of traveling! Once she reached our site, I took her on a quick tour of Mapinhane, we visited Chris’ classroom full of students who later said they hoped to make her their wife someday, then cooked up fresh beans, tortillas and guac to share our favorite burrito feast. We then spent a couple of days in Vilankulo, where we got to show her around our “big” city and relax on the beach. She also got to meet some other PCV friends of ours who were in town for the weekend. All in all, we had a really great couple of days with Jess. Having someone from your old life come to check out your new one can really put things into perspective. And of course, it’s great to see family after being so far away for so long. After Jess left, I hosted our second annual Mapinhane Seder and it turned out even better than last year! The complete Seder plate, hardboiled eggs and matzo ball soup all made an appearance again. I was able to find almost all the traditional fixins’ I needed to pull off practicing Judaism in the bush except for horseradish. So, I did what any seasoned PCV would do, I improvised. I did find wasabi which actually turned out to be a fine substitute. Yes, haroset and wasabi on matza tastes great! We were getting bored with our standard grilled chicken, so another change up this year was shish kabobs. Chris marinated chicken pieces with veggies and grilled them for a delicious Passover main dish. Oh, and we were so fancy this year, we even had a flourless chocolate cake for dessert made by chef TJ! It was a great evening with food and friends from our region who traveled here to be a part of it. Like last year, we passed around the Mad Men era haggadah so that everyone could participate in the Seder readings. NEXT YEAR IN ISRAEL!...Ok, probably not but at least it will be in America! And I can tell you that now that I’ve pulled off two Seders here, it’ll be a piece of (flourless chocolate) cake to do it back home.
After the excitement of cousins and matzo and kids whining about their grades calmed down, we got to check out a new continent, Europe! My Dad and his girlfriend, Chris (Yes, that’s right, we both awkwardly have significant others with the same name), took us on a vacation to Lisbon, Portugal. The main purpose of the trip was to spend time together because we hadn’t seen each other since our departure in September 2011. But also to explore a cool city that none of us had ever been to. So we hopped on our 11 hour plane ride from Maputo to Lisbon and settled in by watching movies and eating pasta from mini trays. This alone felt like luxury as we’re used to spending the same amount of time in a cramped, uncomfortable bus with no beverage service just to travel to Maputo. But once we got to our beautiful hotel, we felt even more extravagant than we did on the airplane! The week’s amenities included hot showers, an awesome breakfast buffet and comfy robes. When you live like we do in Moz, simple things can be such a treat as you’ve heard me get excited over seemingly minor comforts shared in this blog. I think going to South Africa in December broke our “OMG, we’re back in civilization” seal so the impact of first world comforts wasn’t as dramatic this time but we’re still suckers for hi-speed internet and air-conditioning. So ok, I realize I am getting a little too excited about our accommodations so let’s move on to other things about the trip:)… The week began with a slow motion run and a hug for my Dad in the airport since it was the first time I saw him in 1.5 years. It was a good way to remind him that I’m still kind of a wiredo too :). We headed to our hotel (which you’ve already learned ALL about) in a great location in the city that had tons of restaurants and shops around. Or if we wanted to venture elsewhere, Lisbon had no shortage of public transport options: Buses, subways, cable cars and trains, inclines, elevators, GEEESH. We spent our days site-seeing in different areas of the city like Belém and Sintra, which all included walking uphill on narrow classic-looking European streets and checking out a castle built hundreds of years ago. We’d end the day at a restaurant where I indulged in things like spinach ravioli and garlic shrimp. And we’d top off the evening with a pastry from one of the many delicious pastelarias (bakeries) around town. That’s the summary of our trip, but let me share two interesting tidbits we learned while in Portugal #1. My Dad is a hash magnet. Apparently, middle-aged American men are coming to Lisbon to get their smoke on because every time we’d go to the main square, dealers would seek out my Dad to ask if he wanted to buy hash or marijuana and the occasional offer for Coke. Really? He’s walking with 2 Peace Corps Volunteers and they make a b-line for him? So weird. But, it did make for good jokes throughout the week. #2. Everyone will speak English to you, even if you speak Portuguese. Initially, I was a little nervous about speaking my Mozamba-fied Portuguese but I certainly wanted to give it a try. But everywhere we went, the Portuguese people wanted to speak English, even when we’d try to switch the language. When Chris and I were off by ourselves, we had an easier time of it and there were a couple of occasions where people assumed I was Portuguese just by my look so that afforded us the opportunity to speak. But overall, we really didn’t use it as much as we thought we would or as much as we wanted to. I will say the accent is MUCH different than what we are used to here in Mozambique but we were able to figure most things out. Unfortunately, Chris got a lot of speaking practice in the TAP airlines office since our flight back was messed up. Long story short, our flight was moved to a day later and no one at the airline bothered to tell us. Chris had to argue with them to put us up in a hotel room, but they finally did. And the good news was we had an extra day to spend in Lisbon. So we had an awesome time laughing and catching up with my dad and Chris, and gallivanting around in the beautiful city. After the long flight back to Moz, then another 10 hour bus ride back to our home we were surprised at how the travel just didn’t seem like that big of a deal. Flying from Columbus to Chicago seemed like a big deal to me back in the day. I guess becoming an easy traveler is a perk of living real far away from home and doing tons of traveling in crappy cars with no entertainment options except staring out the window. And cute babies.
That’s all to share for now in the land of Moz. I don’t have a witty ending for you this time so I’ll just practice my Portuguese with you since I didn’t get to do it as much as I wanted to in Portugal. Ate a proxima!