I’m lying in bed, staring up at the bare single lightbulb that casts a dim glow in my room, wondering when the next electricity outage will be. I just got off a vchat with my best friend from college, the connection between Namaacha and London suprisingly clear. My mãe is singing a tune that seems to follow no pattern in Changana while boiling water for her evening bath.
I’m not tired. It’s nearing 10 pm, an hour past my normal bedtime, but my brain won’t slow down. Today was our first free day in a long time. In PST, we have no holidays–Mozambican or American. Two have already come and gone uncelebrated. But today, we had our first language exams. After twenty minutes of chatting with a language instructor this morning, I was free. As I explained to my examiner, today I was planning to spend outside, hiking to the three borders with a group of trainees and my host brother. The feeling of suffocation, from constantly planned schedules, strict curfews, and limited free time was hitting me particularly hard. This week started with throwing my back out, was followed by an infection, and culminated with stomach problems after eating a fourth new, stewed leaf here called tseke (I have no idea how it’s spelled in Changana, but no one I asked knew the Portuguese name). The hike didn’t go exactly as planned. We were stopped by the military before we could make the final ascent to the top. My host brother was ready to argue. I grabbed his hand and tugged him away. I wasn’t in the mood to confront harsh armed men on a cold, rainy morning. After trekking the three or so miles back home, I promptly ate lunch, took a bath, settled into my pajamas, and slept for a solid two + hours. One of the potential side effects of the malaria prophylaxis I am taking is disturbed sleep. It’s catching up to me.
Slowly, I am adapting to the rhythm of life here. Wake up at 6 if the roosters don’t interrupt earlier. Wash dishes. Eat breakfast. Go to class. Workout, hang out, or study. Home by 7. Take bath, eat dinner, chat with host fam, read, put in earplugs, sleep. Repeat. Life here is repetitive and becoming normal, but punctuated by strange or scary or hilarious moments: Finding a large winged insect in my couve as I am eating dinner, my sister laughing as I let out a yelp. Discovering a spider inside my pants while wearing them. My mãe stopping me in the yard on my way back to the house while I’m wrapped in my towel to scrub my feet (because apparently they’re not clean enough) in front of my 23-year-old host brother, his friend, and any passing neighbors. 3 am diarrhea, and waking up the whole household while opening the front door after a painful thirty-minute attempt to will it away. Getting invited to go to church by a man who I’m pretty sure was flirting with me. A small child I’ve never met running up and giving me a bundle of pink flowers. Screaming three times during a harrowing bathing experience with a cockroach. My host brother on the daily asking me why I don’t want to eat more rice/xima/insert-your-favorite-carb-here and why I don’t want to engordar. Hearing spoken word poetry performed live in Portuguese and Changana at a birthday party of a woman I’d never met before and didn’t meet at the party either. Holding people’s adorable babies, because a.) they’re adorable and b.) I feel a significant lack of hugging/affection here. Witnessing the (bloody) execution of a chicken and then helping pluck, marinade, and grill it for lunch.
Moving is hard. There are many phases of adjustment and adaptation. There is so much to learn, both formally and informally. My poor host family and language professors have to deal with my potentially rude/culturally insensitive questions on the daily (shout out for their patience and kindess in that regard). Why does no one use toilet paper? Why don’t men help around the house? Why do people throw rocks at emaciated dogs? Why do children often grow up with extended family instead of their parents? Why do people push so violently to get onto the buses? Why does my host family bathe twice a day here but rarely wash their hands? Why do we eat the leaves of vegetables but not the vegetable themselves? Why do people think that there is only one way to cut a carrot/wash a shirt/clean a room/grill chicken? Why do people sometimes go to church for eight hours? Why do people blast Work by Rihanna until wee hours in the morning so loud it can be heard several houses away? These are some of the more jarring questions that I’ve had since arriving. I’m doing my best to maintain a curiosity-without-judgment, but sometimes that proves difficult. I think the key is to remember that just because I observe one thing here in my family or in my community does not mean it is a reflection of Mozambican cultures as a whole. After all, I’ve only been here one month. I haven’t even chipped away at the surface of what Mozambican cultures include.
Been there, done that. I’ve lived abroad before. The adjustment process is fairly similar across continents. I’d say I’m in the end of what I call the initial adjustment phase: I can complete basic tasks; I know where to buy the essentials like bread, capulanas, phone credit, and a cold soda; I’ve met most of my host family and all of the other trainees; I’ve created a jogging route that I take a few days per week. I still don’t understand many aspects of life here, but I’m beginning to feel a little more comfortable. But there’s a difference this time around. Not only do I miss the US, but I also miss Ecuador (and sorry to all my colleagues/friends here who have to hear me talk about Ecuador basically every day in some way or another). In one of my more emotional moments, I was perusing my instagram feed and almost shed a tear when a picture of Baños popped up on my feed. I miss the mountains, the volcanos, the jungle, the waterfalls, the city, the people, the language, the music. Two weeks ago, a massive group of trainees was at a local bar. I asked the bartender, Fatima, if I could connect my music to the sound system. After blasting some classic ratchet songs, I tentatively played some salsa/reggaeton/bachata. Dancing to music that I associate with Ecuador in a bar in sub-saharan Africa was simultaneously wonderful and strange. That night I found myself asking Why did I choose to come to Africa again? It was only for a moment or two.The question has snuck into my subconcious a few times since arriving. Mostly when I am left reeling by a cultural difference, or when I can’t express myself in Portuguese, or when I can’t get the red dirt out of my clothes or my room, or when I feel particularly lonely.
But then I have a belly-deep laugh with my host family as my brother animatedly tells me about his encounter with a lion. My little brother, who doesn’t talk much with me yet, comes up to me seeking affection and sits on my lap. A market avó with whom I share a name sees me and immediately passes her eight-month-old granddaughter to me to hold and snuggle for a bit. I make a joke in Portuguese and people laugh (either at me or with me, I’ll never know). I bake a cake for my host family and almost everyone enjoys it. I go out to a bar and hear some ridiculous and awesome African music**. I start to dance and hum along and feel grateful to be right here, right now.
**For reference, some of the most popular songs around here…if anyone knows what pula pula is, feel free to share.