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Being a vegetarian is a hard thing to explain here. It’s just not an option that anyone has really thought of. When meat is expensive and good meat is only served on special occasions, why would you ever turn it down? When I first got to my homestay house in Namaacha almost 2 years ago, they served chicken at the first meal and I tried my best to politely decline, though I spoke no Portuguese then and they no English so I’m not entirely sure they understood my sequence of hand gestures. I had studied up on some very simple vocabulary and the only words I could remember pertained to food (those are the most important, right?) so I tried to list off some foods that I did eat to illustrate the whole “no meat” concept. Luckily I had an amazing family who took me to the market and picked up just about everything there to make sure they were buying things that I would be able to enjoy. Carrots? Yes. Cabbage? Yes. Dried fish? No. Dried fish??? No. No. Goat head? No. Yes? No. Kale? Yes. Bananas? Yes. After that my host sister, Quiara, made a list of all the things that I liked and made a menu of what to make for me each week (coconut beans 3 times a week, sautéed kale twice, pumpkin leaves and lentils and vegetable soup and garlic potatoes, and then they’d throw in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on special days because they knew that it reminded me of home).
But when I got to Mopeia it wasn’t quite as easy. I live alone so I didn’t have to explain myself so quickly. At the first workshop where lunch was served I tried to explain ahead of time that I would prefer something without meat. My plate arrived with a heaping mound of white rice and some lovely goat intestines (the best part was saved for me they explained). Thank you very much, but I think I’ll just eat these days old crackers that are crumbled at the bottom of my bag. Attempt number two: a couple of months later at another workshop in town, a plate full of xima (flour and water cooked into a dense consistency that looks a bit like mashed potatoes, but most definitely isn’t) and some fried fish. Yum. No thank you, I will just eat these 10 bananas I bought on the street for about 50 cents.
One of my coworkers pulled me aside, “I see that you don’t eat meat, but why?” Well now I would have to explain myself, but did I really have a good answer? And one that I can easily translate? I am a vegetarian because I’ve always loved animals and I realized in college that not eating them made me feel healthier and more in tune with nature. No judgment on others, it’s just something very personal for me. I am happier because I don’t eat meat just as many are happier when they are biting into a big piece of steak. To each his own. But how to explain this here? “Well I really love animals…” “But so do I,” he responded. “Well yes of course you do. I’m not saying you don’t. But for me, I just don’t want to eat them.” At this point I’m a bit nervous that he thinks I’m accusing him of being an animal-hater. “But why?” he asks again. “Well animals are my friends and I just don’t want to eat my friends…” That’s the best I could come up with? But it was followed by laughter, an announcement to the group, and I was never served goat or fish or chicken at workshops again. Now when I’m caught watching a lizard scurrying along the wall (hours of free entertainment, trust me) or if I stop to pet a kitten on the way to work, the usual response is “Oh look at your friend! Don’t worry, we won’t eat him.”

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Planning a training for 70 people is a little more stressful than I had realized. There’s the schedule (How long should we break for lunch? Can that guest speaker really talk for 2 hours? What if I’ve foolishly forgotten my watch and have no idea if anything is running on time or not?), the materials (markers and pens and paper, oh my), logistics (how do you set up a room obviously meant for weddings to encourage discussion? After arranging and rearranging for no less than 2 hours, I now consider myself an expert on this topic), and of course the content. After 3 months of researching behavior change theories, stigma and discrimination activities, and doodling health messages to include in a booklet (finally my true talents are being put to use), we were ready for volunteers and counterparts to arrive from all over the country for 5 days of community activist and medicinal plant fun. And despite how nervous I got standing in front of such a large group, I think the workshop was a great success! It was an amazing opportunity for people from all over Mozambique to come together and share their successes and frustrations and help each other come up with solutions. It was such an encouraging environment and one that I think, and hope, reenergized everyone to take new ideas back to site that will help the whole community.
It was a fantastic week of learning, and of course it was nice to be reunited with all my volunteer friends too. A week in a hotel with wireless internet, hot showers, Coke Light, National Geographic animal shows on tv every night, and the chance to Skype with my family was just the icing on the cake to help me celebrate many hours of work finally being realized. And when the week was over, I thought I was going to have a couple of nights in Maputo to get a check up, and some free time to go to the craft market and get pizza and ice cream. Well a couple of nights turned into 10 nights as I had to get allergy tests and the results took a while since my blood sample had to be sent to a lab in South Africa. But how can I complain? I went to the craft market no less than 6 times (it was on the way to the ice cream shop), went out for pizza 3 times, had a Greek salad, had a chocolate brownie sundae, stayed up way too late watching YouTube videos with other volunteers who were in Maputo for a REDES meeting, and 10 more days of being able to Skype with my family. The whole going to the doctor part, getting blood drawn, and finding out I’m allergic to practically everything (except cats! And very low allergies to dogs, the silver lining to all of this) kept me grounded or I would have really thought I was on vacation. But it was a nice break after an exhausting week. And at the end I actually wanted to come home to my simple house and get in my own bed and use my own kitchen and get back into my usual routine. At least for a little while- less than 5 months left until I’m officially done with this part of my Peace Corps journey!

Address

Jordan Rief, PCV
Corpo da Paz/U. S. Peace Corps
Av. Do Zimbabwe 345
CP 4398
Maputo
Mozambique

Disclaimer

The contents of this blog are my personal thoughts and opinions. They do not represent the views or official policies of the Peace Corps or of the U.S. government.

Peace Corps Moçambique