Peace Corps has three main goals:

  1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

 Now with less than 4 months left in my service, I’m left questioning how well I’ve accomplished the goals given to me when I embarked on this journey. Goal 1 has been the focus of a lot of my time here. I’m not sure how much I’ve “accomplished” or how to even measure it, but I feel pretty confident in that I’ve tried my best to be a good volunteer and share the knowledge and resources that I have. During my first 2 years I worked with community volunteers and we sat down twice a week to learn about health topics that affected the work they were doing while visiting chronically ill beneficiaries. I’m not sure that all of them retained everything that I presented, but I know that something (however small it may be) was learned, morale was boosted, and they continued doing home visits.

Goal 2 is a bit easier because I just have to be myself. Discussing American culture, food, politics, etc. is a part of daily life here and one that I embrace. When I’m homesick, reminiscing about the things I love about America and the things I miss the most helps me to keep things in perspective. I always try to clarify that I am one person in a huge country so I’m not representative of all Americans, but of the diversity that is America. I frequently have to explain that not all Americans are vegetarians, or are Democrats, or are Peace Corps volunteers. But this usually clashes with what they’ve seen on tv anyways so it opens the door for some interesting discussions and comparisons with the many different cultures and identities that exist in Mozambique.

The third goal is where I stumble. Trying to convey to an audience in the States what it is that makes Mozambique so unique and important is difficult to say the least. When I started thinking about this topic I remembered how well-travelled and learned I felt when I returned from 3 ½ months of studying abroad in Mombasa, Kenya. I felt like I really understood Swahili culture and customs, like I had witnessed so many things and therefore was somehow qualified to speak out about what life was like on the Kenyan coast. Now after almost 3 years in Moz, I’ve realized how little I actually know, about Kenya years ago and about Moz now. Being submerged in the culture here has convinced me that I’ve only scratched the surface of all that is Mozambican. So I won’t pretend to be an authority on anything, except for my own personal experience living and working in central and northern Mozambique.

These have been the hardest, most influential, painful, and rewarding years of my life. Living as an outsider because of race, language, and customs in a tight-knit community is extremely challenging. But I survived, and that was mostly thanks to the many wonderful Mozambicans who have helped me along the way. I’ve mentioned many of them before- my adoptive mom, Genita, my best friend in Mopeia, Cristina, our Peace Corps staff in the north, Gelane, Marcelino, Lucio, Dr. Carlos, our REDES counterpart in Angoche, Aida, and so many others- they’ve all played such an important role in shaping how I view this beautiful country. I can’t imagine anywhere else in the world where you can hitchhike a distance the equivalent of the entire coastline of California safely and with groups of people going out of their way to guide you at every step.

One story really epitomizes to me the spirit of kindness and generosity that I’ve encountered. 2 years ago I was at the REDES (girls empowerment) conference in Chimoio ready to hike up a mountain with all of the participants and our counterparts. We crossed a couple of small streams at the bottom of the hill and walked through some tall grass when my flip flop broke. Yes, it was a little absurd that I was wearing flip flops but I was feeling pretty integrated into Moz society at that point which deemed it completely appropriate to do all sorts of things in inappropriate footwear. I turned around and was going to just wait a couple hours for the girls to come back down. But as I was walking a family stopped me and asked why I hadn’t gone up. I showed them my broken sandal and without hesitation one of the men in the house took the shoes off of his feet and offered to lend them to me. I was in shock. I wasn’t from Chimoio or even the surrounding area and had never met this family. I couldn’t believe that this man was offering me the shoes off of his feet so that I could go on a hike. If I could have pulled myself out of the fog of disbelief, I probably would have cried right there (tears of joy of course at regaining my faith in humanity). But thankfully I stayed composed (because crying doesn’t go over very well here, but that’s another story for another day) and I hiked up that mountain. And it’s one of my favorite memories from the entirety of my service. I got to pose with my REDES girls in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. I got to sing with them as they celebrated getting to the top. And I got to descend with them happier than ever. When I passed by the house to return the borrowed shoes, the man had sewn my broken flip flops. He handed them to me without asking for anything and gave me a smile and a wave.

Just like I can’t say that I’m representative of all Americans, I can’t say that this man is representative of all Mozambicans. But there are so many good people here that if the only thing I can give to you is this story, then I am more than ok with that. I hope that I’ve shared something, given you a photo, or told one anecdote that resonates with you and makes you feel like you understand Mozambique a little better than before. Because, after all, that is the third goal.

Advertisements