As I marked the 3rd anniversary of my arrival in Moz a couple of weeks ago, and realized that I only have less than 2 months left, I’ve been making a mental list of all of the things I’ve learned since that day I stepped off the plane and started my crazy life here. Of course, it would be impossible for me to include everything, so here are just 15 life lessons that I’ve learned while living in Moz:
1. Mango season is the best season. Mangos everywhere. Purple ones, green ones, pink ones, ones bigger than my fist. All the mangos you can eat for so cheap they’re practically giving them away!
2. Mango season is the worst. Glorious, delicious, sticky mangos- with the small caveat that it’s the hottest time of the year. Trying to sleep in a 90 degree room with no breeze? Sweating the instant you stop showering? And to top it off it’s also the rainy season?!
3. Matapa is a food of the gods. Pulverized cassava leaves cooked in a delicious broth of coconut and peanut milk with some tomato and onion if you’re lucky. Absolutely divine. It may look like baby food, but it tastes like heaven.
4. The market dictates what you eat and when you eat it. Want some pasta with tomato sauce for dinner? Don’t count on it until you go talk to your tomato man and see what he has to offer. A salad made with lettuce? Only between the months of June and November. But rice and beans can be had any day. Although how much you pay for it will vary too.
5. Spices and condiments are key. There are currently 20 spices in my kitchen and 3 sauces in my fridge to change up my daily routine of bread for breakfast, egg sandwiches for lunch, and veggie sandwiches for dinner.
6. Food becomes the center of your universe. If you can’t tell from 1-5, not having the luxury of a supermarket down the street means that you think about food all the time. How you’re going to get it, how much it costs, how you’re going to cook it, how long you can use leftovers, and really- is a mustard sandwich an acceptable meal?- become daily thoughts.
7. Technology becomes a luxury and not a given. I’m not ashamed to admit that I rely on my laptop for entertainment. Hours of Friends, Modern Family, and The Office have gotten me through some pretty boring nights (aka almost every night since I’m usually in my pajamas by 6). But I’ve also realized that I can live without all of these luxuries. I didn’t have daily, or weekly, internet my first two years here. I can’t tell you what the hottest youtube clip of the moment is. Heck- I can barely navigate youtube (true story- I went on last week for the first time in years and got sucked into watching some pretty strange stuff). But I am thankful for the things that I do have.
8. Being an outsider sucks. When I walk down the street, people stare. When I don’t know a word in Portuguese, people laugh. When I speak in my “funny” accent, some act like they can’t understand me. It gets tiring to always be different, even when doing normal things. I feel like I constantly have to justify my actions- yes, I do go to the market just like you! Yes, I do eat papaya! Yes, I do wash my clothes by hand (albeit quite begrudgingly)! In the states, I never thought about how incredibly brave it is for someone who doesn’t speak English well to navigate the busy streets, or to attend school. I know how much I’ve benefitted from the patience of strangers here, and I’ve learned how amazing it feels to have someone pay attention to you for the right reasons when you’re feeling so alone. This is one of the biggest lessons that I’m going to take back with me to the States. Kindness is free, but it can make someone feel like a million bucks. (I should write greeting cards. No really, I’ll be unemployed in a about 7 weeks so this may be my new calling).
9. Children are the funniest, sweetest, most glorious creatures on the planet. Followed very closely by stripy kittens, baby orangutans, and pygmy hippos. I never really thought of myself as a “kid person” before I got here. I thought that title was reserved more for kindergarten teachers or little league coaches. But my God, do I love children. Their angelic faces knocking on your window at 5am so see if you’re awake almost makes you forget entirely that no, you were most definitely asleep. When I went back to visit my friends in Mopeia last week, Lauren asked my best friend Tinho (age 7) if he wanted to go back to the US with me. His first response: “But amiga, who is going to pay for transportation?” How can that not make you smile? Also his younger sister was wearing a shirt that said “I love to giggle.” I love that they find joy in the smallest things, like playing in the rain that is pouring off the edges of a tin roof, or swinging on a random pole, or tying a string to a dragonfly to be their own personal helicopter. Children are the reason why I’ll be so sad to leave this place.
10. Bucket showers are not that bad. I can admit this now that I don’t have to carry a bucket of freezing water out to the latrine and use a cup to pour it over my head anymore. But really- you kind of get used to it. And it makes nice, hot showers feel that much better.
11. Visiting people living with chronic illnesses as a job is rewarding in such an unusual way. Seeing people suffering is sad. Horrifically sad. But when they get even the tiniest bit better, I can’t even describe to you how good that feels. I saw a woman my same age that I thought was surely going to die. She couldn’t get out of bed, she was skeletal, and she barely had the energy to say a few words. But after a month of antiretroviral treatment, that same woman was out in the yard playing with her children. There is so much sadness, but the glimmers of hope are so incredible that it motivates you to keep going, and to better appreciate what you have. Seeing families come together to help one another made me realize how incredibly thankful I am for my own.
12. Mozambican mothers are a force to be reckoned with. Cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, hours in the fields, and then they do it all over again. Without complaining. Incredible.
13. Spiders are terrifying. I was never a huge fan of spiders before, but I only usually saw a handful of daddy long legs a year. But here- spiders are everywhere. In between the pages of my books, dangling from the ceiling ready to fall on my head, in the guava tree in my front yard building the biggest web I’ve ever seen. And the spiders are huge. I mean- I’ve seen some tarantula-esque spiders just walking around. And then there are the golden orb spiders that live in just about every tree. The one in my yard even caught a bird in its web. Straight out of my nightmares!
14. Mozambique is one of the most beautiful places in the world. There are valleys filled with wildflowers and exotic birds flying overhead, pristine beaches with perfect turquoise water, tea plantations, untouched islands, and incredible mountain ranges. And the most gorgeous sunrises and sunsets that you will ever see. Getting from any one of these places to another on a Peace Corps living allowance is another story. Always an adventure, but never comfortable. You may be sitting 5 across in a space that in America would seat 3, or you might be saddled up next to some goats and chickens, but it’s all part of the journey!
15. Peace Corps is the toughest job you’ll ever love. Ok, I didn’t come up with that one on my own, but it is so true. I read that on a booklet that Peace Corps sent me before I left, and I had no idea what it meant. My first year here I just thought it was just the toughest job I’d ever have. But then I grew to love it. I grew to love the uncertainty of it all. I realized how incredibly lucky I am that I have been able to spend the last 3 years of my life as a volunteer. My only job has been to do whatever I can to help others. I haven’t had to worry about paying rent, or paying for health insurance, or existing in a world where I constantly “need” a new wardrobe/car/phone, etc. I only have to worry about going to my weekly girls empowerment group meetings, working with our boys art group, helping staff in the office to better monitor their projects, and making sure that I’m staying healthy and sane. I have met some of the most incredible people that I will ever have the privilege of knowing, I have seen some of the most beautiful sights that I will ever see, and I have had some of the most amazingly memorable times of my life- all in Peace Corps Mozambique.