As my next birthday quickly approaches, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to grow older and how different my perception of age is at home compared to what is the norm here. I will soon be turning the big 2-5. I know for some, you’re thinking that I’m still just a small sapling with a lot of life before me. But for me this birthday marks a transition into a strange unknown. 25. Does this mean I’m an adult now? Should I have more accomplishments to show for my quarter century spent on this earth? Should I have a better grasp on what I want to be when I “grow up”? And as I had dreamt up when I was just 12 years old, shouldn’t I have already published a book, be working for World Wildlife Fund (single handedly saving orangutans, gorillas, and chimpanzees from the evils of poaching and deforestation), and be an expert in all things “adult” (like filing my own taxes)?
Every time I think of turning a year older I’m filled with an inexplicable sense of dread. Well to be honest, I first think of the amazing birthday festivities planned- camping on the beach with amazing friends for a weekend of charades, sun, swimming, and t-shirts featuring cats with sunglasses and the slogan “Gatos do Mato.” But this is quickly followed by a general sense of unease. Why? Because I am living in rural Mozambique where the fact that I’m in my mid-twenties and am unmarried without children is as big a part of my identity as the fact that I’m foreign and can be spotted from a mile away. To be 25 and not have a baby is so unimaginable for some, that they think it’s impossible. Weekly I overhear my name in some sequence involving my age, a confirmation that yes I do live alone, and general worry that there may be something medically wrong with me. Now all of this talk isn’t to say that I agree in any way with the consensus in my neighborhood. I don’t feel like an “old maid” and I’m not worried about finding a husband (quite far from it actually). But the constant discussion and insistence that I’m past my prime have started to make me question (though in a much different sense than my acquaintances here), what age really means.
In the more than a year that I’ve been working in Mopeia going on home visits I’m constantly reminded that the average life expectancy is about half of what it is back in the states. So when I take into account the reality of life here, some perceptions about age start to make more sense. If my parents passed away when I was 14 and I was left to raise my younger siblings, I think I would have matured much more quickly than I had to in my own life when my biggest worry at 14 was who was going to drive me to soccer practice or why I was the only one of my friends that didn’t have braces (a blessing now that I avoided the pain and awkwardness associated with having a mouth full of metal, but I just wanted those colored bands!). So if I deduced by seeing my family members and friends pass away at a young age, that I myself might only make it to mid-life, would I want to speed things up so that I could accomplish everything in my given time? If I thought I could only expect to live into my 30’s or 40’s would I want to marry young and have children right away to ensure that I got to experience these things? I want these same things, but I don’t feel the urgency that many feel here. I can’t understand the desire to get married at 16 or 17 like many of my neighbors, but I also don’t know what it’s like to lose brothers, sisters, friends, and classmates at such a young age. But that’s not to say that I agree with teenagers leaving school because of early pregnancies or because they got married and now have too much housework. But at least I can begin to understand the motives, which hopefully will help me to think of some better behavior change strategies to aid my efforts.
So I guess during my 25th year I’ll just continue to do what I did during my 24th- to show that life can be lived one day at a time. I am living proof that a woman can live alone, without a husband or children, work, study, and be ok. And even though I’m seen as an oddity now, maybe I’m planting the seed for a future generation here. I have a close friend that has started helping me with my journalism and girls’ groups at the secondary school. She just turned 21 a few weeks ago and she has no plans to get married any time soon. She has no children. She is a rarity, but she is a gem who has taken up cause as of late to speak out about gender inequality and the importance of keeping girls in school. And fighting the social norm just by being herself! (And she’s planning on going to the police academy later this year!) Change happens one person at a time. And birthdays only come once a year so I will be spending my “Dia de Mentira” (yes there is a Mozambican form of April Fool’s Day) hopefully in the company of good friends, good food, and maybe even some famous charcoal-baked cake.

I´m back in Moz after spending Christmas at home with my family! I was only in the States for 2 weeks, but it was so nice to see my family and friends and to remember the little comforts of my old life (like relaxing on the couch while watching Top Chef and ordering pizza, definitely not something that I get to do over here). I was worried before I went home that I would feel like so much had changed and that I wouldn´t be able to relate, but it was much easier to transition back than I expected. I have a different perspective and my priorities have changed, but for the most part I´m the same old me! It was reassuring to see that my brother, sister, and I still have our inside jokes, that my dad still wants to take me to my favorite vegetarian restaurant, that my mom is still worried about me being happy so she goes out of her way to make delicious lemon bars when she´s already cooking Christmas dinner for 20 people. I think my trip home was definitely what I needed to spend time with my favorite people and get ready for my next year abroad!
When I got back to Moz, I realized how much I missed it when I was away. When I´m here it´s easy to complain about the heat, the spiders that inhabit every shoe and dark corner, the slow pace of life that can sometimes make weekends unbearable, living alone and getting into a routine of being in bed by 8pm. But I have such incredible friends here, the kids in my neighborhood are so adorable, and I feel like slowly I´m doing something (even if it´s not on as big of a scale as I would hope). So I´m back to bucket baths and eating beans. To sitting on chapas for hours on end just to get to the next volunteer. To heat rashes and sunburns. And I wouldn´t have it any other way.

It’s Beginning to Feel a lot like Christmas?

From 110 degrees of suffocating heat to booming thunder and a torrential downpour in the span of 5 minutes? Just summer here in Moz! I can’t sleep at night without the fan whizzing right next to me, but when I open my front door in the morning I’m met with what looks like a giant lake where my yard used to be, submerged under at least a foot of water that had been beating down on my tin roof all night. But it makes for the most amazing lightning storms! (And all this rain is just what the mangoes needed to finally ripen!) So it’s back to sunburns and watching my neighborhood kids strip down and shower in the rain (and make an impromptu slip-n-slide by running and diving face first into a long puddle). Although this weather definitely makes me miss the mild climate of Southern California, the universe makes up for it by delivering the sweetest pineapples and days with friends at Zalala Beach.
Besides having to explain why my skin is continuously changing colors (from a nice bronzed glow to a really quite attractive bright red which my coworkers think makes me look like I’ve been roasted over the fire a little too long…), the downside to December here is that it doesn’t feel like Christmas in the least! I miss the houses lit up with decorations and sitting next to the fire sipping on some hot chocolate. Last year on Christmas I had just moved into my new house here in Mopeia with nothing but a bed, 1 plastic table, 4 plastic lawn chairs, an electric stove and 2 pans, so I spent Christmas morning 1) locking myself out of my house and trying to look for a carpenter to come break my door so that I could get back in and 2) being pitied by my neighbor who cooked me some delicious beans and let me have a Coke in his yard so I would stop pouting about spending my first Christmas away from my family. So that fateful day a year ago my wonderful, generous, kind, and loving mother agreed to let me come home for the holidays this year! And so after being away for 14 months, I will finally get to see my siblings, my parents, my family, and my friends for 2 weeks back in the States! And trading in this heat for some cooler temperatures will really be a Christmas miracle!
So as 2010 comes to an end, I’m reminded of what an amazing journey I’ve had so far in my Peace Corps service! Working with incredible local volunteers every day, going on an unbelievable safari vacation with my mom, making so many memories with my amazing friends here, putting on my first workshop and hearing that clips of it (and of me!) made it on the local news, floating in a dugout canoe next to giant crocodiles, making a plain cement house into my home, meeting the next group of volunteers starting their time here in Moz, and all the little day-to-day things that make me so grateful for everything I have here! Happy Holidays to everyone and have a Wonderful New Year!

I was planning on writing this blog update about general updates and what’s been happening these past couple of months (including the construction of my new bathroom- outside), but when I was in the car coming into the city on Thursday afternoon something happened that really changed my perspective. There was a man riding his bike on the side of the road leading into Quelimane (the capital of the province I live in, Zambezia). The cars were getting really close to him but this isn’t uncommon so I didn’t think twice about it. He must have hit a bump in the road and swerved suddenly into traffic. I saw him get run over by the car in front of us and die. To be honest I’m making the assumption that he died because of what I saw, but the consensus among my colleagues is that there was no way he could have survived such a terrible accident. So inadvertently watching this man’s life end has really shaken me and made me think about how quickly things can change.
In Mopeia, I’ve seen a lot of people who are in poor health and I’ve met with people to hear only a few days later that they’ve passed away. It’s always sad to hear about someone dying and to think about the family they’re leaving behind, but actually seeing someone die is something so inexplicably frightening and distressing. I’ve taken many moments this weekend to reflect on how quickly life can be taken from any of us, and how important it is to appreciate all that we have now.
So between that event, seeing a young man attempt to commit suicide by drinking battery acid (but he lived!), and visiting a very young mother only to hear of her death 3 days later, August has been a very intense month. But not all of it was bad. I went on a beautiful bike ride to the Zambezi River and had a colleague from work stay with me for 3 weeks (which meant lots of conversations in English and we even made a chocolate cake in my Dutch oven). The activistas (community volunteers that I do home visits with) had a big party to celebrate the Home Based Care program completing two years in Mopeia. They spent all day cooking 5 chickens, 2 goats, a lot of rice, and some greens especially for me. It was unlike any party that I’m used to at home because there was a lot of eating and very little talking, but the food was delicious and it was really nice to see the activistas get recognition for all of the hard work that they do!
Although August wasn’t my favorite month, it made me think about how lucky I am and how much I have to be thankful for. And in only one month we’ll be getting a new group of volunteers heading to Moçambique to start their own Peace Corps journeys! We’re all so excited to meet you! So good luck to Moz 15 as you back your bags and begin this new chapter, you’re going to love it!

written June 7, 2010
I wouldn’t call the current temperature here in Mopeia cold per se, but it’s not hot so that’s definitely a huge improvement! I’ve even worn a sweatshirt a few times and brought out the bright orange blanket with zebras on it (courtesy of Peace Corps) which I used last night. I think my body has gone into shock now that it’s not sweating so much, and it just doesn’t know what to do with itself. Which may be why I got ill in May and had a minor breakdown filled with nightmares of having to be transferred to some hospital where they were going to perform some scary procedure on me. What started out as a supposed spider bite, turned into a bacterial infection that made my foot and leg swell up so I couldn’t get out of bed for a few days, caused a fever that only added to my delusions of the thousands of scary things that we’re going on inside my body and the even scarier manner in which it was going to be cured, and made me just a little unhappy to be away from home and alone. But just as quickly as my mystery illness appeared, it started to get better (after spreading of course to both of my legs and arms and leaving some beautiful marks which can only be referred to as my “battle wounds”). So I was scared and uncomfortable, but I made it through my first real bout of illness here (knock on wood that it doesn’t suddenly spring up again while I’m sleeping just to spite me). And my English students, journalism club, girls’ after school group, and colleagues from work all came to check up on me- and they all thoroughly enjoyed my 4th of July pajamas, and all unanimously agreed that my legs are looking very feia (ugly) and I should keep them covered until fully healed. I started taking antibiotics but they made me feel even worse than I was already feeling so I was already heading into town for our monthly meeting and after one piece of chocolate cake I was magically cured. So I ate a second piece just for good measure and am now a true believer in the healing power of chocolate.
I did get some exciting news last month that I may be getting a bathroom built inside my house. Yes, inside! Which would mean no more bucket showers in the dark, windowless brick thing that is thirty feet away from my house and which rats have recently decided to inhabit. I will still be taking bucket showers, but at least they’ll be more comfortable bucket showers and hopefully they’ll be free of the likes of the black widow and her thousands of unborn spider babies I found in my “bathroom” last week. So keep your fingers crossed that this may actually happen! I’ve already been waiting a month and construction hasn’t started yet, but they did drop off a lovely pile of sand in front of my house for something so I’m still hopeful!
The first day of June was “International Children’s Day” so we had a lot of activities in the community. I got to judge the banner and pottery making contests, and I got to sit front row for the dance competition. It was a great day and everyone had a lot of fun (although many were disappointed that not everyone could get a t-shirt. I was one of the lucky ones who did so I felt guilty about it all day). The theme was “We guarantee the protection of children against trafficking,” although the day was less about the theme and more about kids winning backpacks and pencils and just having a good time. One of the communities even invited me to a little party in the afternoon where they had killed a pig, but I very politely refused and instead ate the only vegetarian option- a big plate of white rice.
Last week I participated in an art therapy training with some of my Save The Children colleagues. It was three days of making clay animals, using local resources to make jungle scenery for my clay orangutan to live in, and getting to do art activities that hopefully we’re going to start using in our communities. It was nice to get some new ideas for fun things that we can do with the kids and I really think they’re going to like having the opportunity to do something different and creative. It also gave me a lot of ideas for things I can do with my neighbors in case they ever get bored of using my markers (which doesn’t seem likely considering the 30+ drawings taped up inside my house). But I’ve also been inspired to use my newfound skills to make my house a little more creative. I definitely have enough time on my hands so now I’m going to start making my house feel a little more like my own. I started yesterday by making a “princess” bed out of bamboo sticks and sewing my mosquito net so I now don’t have to sleep with it touching me.
So after an interesting May, I’m ready for June and my trip to visit some friends up north! Hope you’re all having barbeques and pool parties and enjoying all those wonderful summery things at home!

– And also a HUGE thank you to my wonderful friend Christine for sending me such an amazing package! You’re the best!!!
** And to my amazing mother and family for sending a giant bag complete with a pressure cooker and my favorite foods! I Love You all so much and can’t thank you enough!!!

April 27, 2010

The REDES Conference in Chimoio was a huge success!!! REDES (Raparigas Em Desenvolvimento, Educacao, E Saude or teenage girls in development, education, and health for all my English speaking friends) is a group that Peace Corps volunteers in Moz have the option of starting to talk about health topics, learn a new skill, or just act as a sort of after-school club for girls in your community. I’m trying to start a REDES group in Mopeia so I took 2 interested girls from the local secondary school and a teacher to the conference in Chimoio, Manica. It was a week long conference filled with sessions from test taking strategies to how HIV is transmitted and how we can avoid getting it. There were about 50 girls from all over the Northern and Central provinces and it was so much fun! A lot of singing and dancing, and we even taught the girls how to play 4-square and musical chairs. There were some skills sessions also that included nutrition (and making delicious banana and sweet potato chips), income generation (and how to sew purses), self-defense, and public speaking. The difference in the girls from the beginning of the week to the end was absolutely amazing! The first couple of days a lot of the girls were shy and didn’t ask many questions, but by the end they were performing in front of everyone. Everyone had such a great time the whole week but the highlight was definitely climbing Cabeca de Velha (Old Head) mountain. It was a really intense climb and I definitely did not pack the right hiking clothes which became obvious at the bottom of the mountain when my sandal broke. Of course I didn’t have an extra pair so Charlotte convinced me to go to the first house and ask them to borrow some shoes. Three women were sitting outside in the yard and looked at me like I was crazy, but a man came up, took off his shoes, and insisted that I climb the mountain with them. I left my sandals there and promised to bring his back after. The climb was amazingly beautiful and the girls loved every second of it (although it was really steep, but definitely a good workout after all the delicious egg sandwiches and pastries they’d been feeding us for snack time). When I returned to give the man his shoes back, he had fixed my sandals by sewing the plastic back together. I was so overwhelmed by the generosity of this family- they didn’t ask me for anything in return, they just genuinely wanted to help me!

There was an amazing girl that I met at the conference and we quickly became friends. She sent me a message on the day we left and it pretty much sums up why I’m here (translated from Portuguese of course): “Your love and friendship marked me for all my life. I’m never going to forget you because I love you and will always have you in my heart.” This was one of the best weeks I’ve had in Mozambique so far and I can’t wait to start planning the next conference!

So the trip back… After such an amazing week of course something was bound to go wrong- but thankfully it was just an engine that kept overheating. The girls from Zambezia (my province) rented two chapas (van-type transportation) and we left at 4:30am on Saturday to make it back. The morning started with a flat tire and we ended up having to stop every 1-2 hours to add water to the engine that was overheating. And then the drivers decided that adding curry powder to the engines would solve all of its problems. We did make it home so maybe they’re on to something? The trip took 6 hours going and 13 hours coming back (and I was one of the closer drop-offs so I can’t even complain). I bought a bag of cashews on the road so I was pretty content despite the setbacks.

So another month down (May 1st marks 7 months in Mozambique which means only 4 months until my mom and brother come visit and 7 ½ months until I come home to visit for the holidays!) and all is well here! Especially since I just received 2 packages that were sent in January! Thanks dad and Judie for the wonderful gifts! I’ve been spoiled reading Time magazine while eating tofu and Jif peanut butter (but not together)! I am so lucky to have such amazing family and friends!

So I’ll leave you with a few words of wisdom that one of the REDES girls wrote in a note to her friend: “A sua vida nao e uma bolacha” translation: “Your life is not a cookie.” And some very wise words that one of the teachers told me while we were stopped on the side of the road in the rain with no restroom in sight “Quando vais no mato, xixi nao sai”: “when you go out into the bush, pee doesn’t come out,” maybe not the most elegant of phrases, but definitely words to live by here! Hope all is well at home!

So I’ve had a few complaints that I haven’t been updating this blog enough so my apologies and a promise that I will attempt to write more. First of all- thank you so much to everyone for all of the birthday wishes! On April 1 (Dia De Mentiras here in Mozambique) I turned 24 (scary!) and passed the mark for living in Moz for 6 months! Although my day wasn’t terribly exciting, our Health APCD (in charge of the Health sector here) did pull a good prank and unfortunately Michelle Obama will not be visiting this wonderful country and even more unfortunately will not be coming to visit me personally in Mopeia. But I did make a pretty good cake in my dutch oven and my neighbor’s cat, Pikachu, enjoyed it more than anyone else. So I’m another year older and hopefully a little wiser and so very appreciative for all of the kind notes and words of encouragement that I received from so many people!
I did get to do something really amazing on my birthday, which is going to be part of my normal routine as I’m starting to figure out my work schedule and how I can be most effective in my efforts here. In the afternoon I went out with a group of Activistas in the bairro A Luta Continua. We all went on bikes (which was a lot easier after the Activistas pointed out that I didn’t have air in either of my tires), and we went to visit some of the beneficiaries of Save The Children’s home based care program. These Activistas regularly visit their beneficiaries to check on them, make sure they’re taking their medications, see how the children are doing, and even feed and bathe some of them if needed. So my role right now is mostly to observe how the visits are being conducted and if I see any areas that can be improved or if I can support the Activistas to provide better care to the community. This job is sad, I see a lot of sad things and I’ve questioned so many times why there is so much suffering in this world, but these Activistas are so amazing it’s really inspiring. These are just people from the community who are volunteering to take on this role and receive so little in return. They are paid a very small incentive each month, but it’s not enough to convince someone who isn’t completely dedicated to this type of work to go out every day and care for their neighbors. The Activistas led me through windy, sandy paths, through overgrown wheat fields, and past beautiful, giant cashew trees to several small mud houses so we could talk to these families.
One of my roles is to make sure that they are checking on the children of the beneficiaries to see if they are studying, if they are sick themselves and need to be accompanied to the hospital, and if they have any other needs that we might be able to help them with. The thing that amazes me time and time again is how tough these kids are. We met one boy probably about 10 years old whose mother died last month so he’s now living with his grandmother who is a beneficiary and very ill. This little boy told us he wants to be a doctor and showed us his notebook from school. It’s filled with beautiful drawings and he was a little embarrassed at all the compliments we gave him. For me it’s hard to imagine a child going through such horrific events, but for many it’s the reality here. But this child wants to go to school and dreams of becoming something great so he does what he has to do, he survives. The resiliency here is incredible. I am so incredibly lucky to be such a small part of this amazing program.
On a different note, I went on a small vacation a few weeks ago. We had a conference with all of the health volunteers in Nampula to talk about how our first 3 months living at site went and to share our experiences with each other. It was so nice to reconnect with friends that I hadn’t seen since I moved to Mopeia! After the conference about 10 of us traveled to the coast to Ilha de Mocambique. I think this is one of the most beautiful sites in the world. The water is crystal clear, there are white sand beaches, and there is so much history. We took a boat across to a beach called Carrusca which was incredible so we spent a couple days relaxing. We went back to Ilha for a day and took a tour of the museum and fort and did some shopping (capulana pants, a ring made out of an old piece of Portuguese tile, and 2 beautiful bead necklaces for less than $20!). It was great to be able to travel with friends and to see another part of Mozambique. This country is so beautiful!
Hopefully by the next time I post a blog update it will be less than 100 degrees here and maybe we’ll be starting this winter everyone keeps promising me is coming. The market is full of pumpkins and squash so I’m hoping that’s a sign that colder weather is on its way. Also hopefully I will have received the packages sent in January by Mom, Dad, Judie, Chase, Ash, and everyone else (maybe if I put good vibes out into the universe they’ll actually make it to me?), so thank you so much for trying to get me some candy and other treats! I miss everyone and hope all is well at home. Send me updates, questions, comments, whatever! Tchau!


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


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