Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Last Day

Saturday I left what has been my home for the last two years.  It really is an unreal feeling and I’m not totally sure how to deal with the emotions. It was a long and slow last couple of weeks, passing each day pretty much the same as the one before it, all towards the inevitable end. 

Our last day in Murrupula could not have been more perfect.  We passed the early morning finishing packing, cleaning the house, and tiding things up.  Then my favorite group of kids came by for our last play date.  We blew up balloons and hung them from our patio (much to their excitement), we gave them toys and gifts like toy cars, bouncy balls, and hair clips, we danced, made paper airplanes and bracelets, colored the last pages of the coloring books, and made a cake.  It was the perfect play day.  The kids were amazingly well behaved and extremely grateful for the small gifts we gave them, even saying thank you, which can be a rare sentiment at times.

Later in the afternoon, Adrienne and I walked around, distributing the remainder of our toys to other children in the neighborhood.  As expected, upon returning back to our house, several groups of children came over asking for more toys, somewhat putting a damper on the whole experience, but, you learn to brush that kind of stuff off after two years.

We spent our last evening with our closest friends and colleagues, Professor Shek, Iassito, Rilton, and Herminio.  It was the perfect meal, filled with taking pictures, reminiscing, and chatting with great friends.  The most touching moment was when Shek prompted a discussion in which each person mentioned something we had given or taught them during our time here.  Shek said he had learned to be punctual and the value of volunteerism.  Rilton said he had learned to be patient with children and now greatly enjoyed spending time and working with kids.  Iassito mentioned how, just through listening to his ideas, we had given a value to his organization and to his dreams, not just arriving and dumping American ideals on them, but really listening to their own ideas and working together.  It was really a touching moment that I will always remember.  I am leaving knowing how greatly this experience has affected and changed me for the rest of my life, but you always wonder how or if you affected the people around you.  And to have this great group of friends, an amazing group of individuals that I have come to greatly respect, say such kind and sincere words was a really special moment.

On Saturday morning, after a last night sleeping without electricity (of course), I awoke early, opening my door to a bright orange and pink sunrise, hearing the neighbors just starting to get up and begin sweeping their yards, taking a second to take in all the sounds around me for one last time.  I walked over to where all my children friends live and the emotions that I had been suppressing over the last few weeks suddenly hit me.  I gave a big hug to one of my favorite girls, Merina, telling her to find the others and come to our house to see us off, fighting to hold back the tears.  For about an hour, we sat with a group of 15 kids, making some last paper airplanes, as we waited for the very generous school secretary who had offered to give us a ride to Nampula.  Finally, the car arrived, we loaded our bags, gave one more last hug and got in the car, waving goodbye to the children as they ran alongside the car.  Fighting to hold back the tears again, it was really strange to drive away from my town for one last time, not truly believing it, or maybe just not wanting to believe it, that the last day had finally come after such a slow few weeks.

I still remember my last night back at home in September 2011, stressfully packing my two bags, trying to stay in the weight limits, trying to figure out what I would need over the next two years, having no idea what to expect.  I remember spending time in Philadelphia, first meeting the other volunteers, people who now have become my close friends who I hope to always stay in contact with.  We spent ten weeks in Namaacha, struggling to learn Portuguese, how to take bucket baths, cook, do laundry.  I remember arriving in Murrupula for the first time, first opening the doors to my new home, greeted by only a wooden table, a wooden shelf, and a few wooden chairs.

As I shut my door for the last time, I imagined what it will be like for the new volunteer to arrive there on her first day - opening her new door to be greeted by bright blue walls and a painted giraffe and elephant.  What a difference!

Right now it feels a little like I’ve been thrown down into the middle of a sprint, these next few weeks packed with turning in final paperwork, medical tests, and saying some last goodbyes.  Then I’m meeting my mom in South Africa before out Botswana safari adventure.  Then I’ll be back home in California to celebrate my first American Christmas in two years!  I think once I’m back, I’ll have more of an opportunity to reflect back on this experience, see how it’s affected me and will affect my future. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

My Last Week in Murrupula

I will never cease to be amazed by the creativity of the children here.  Whenever they come over they excitedly race over to my trash pit, exploring to see what kinds of treasures I might have thrown away.  I never expected them to be so excited about finding old sheets of paper!  Instantly, the group of six young boys fished out the paper and began folding paper airplanes, putting pebbles in the paper as a pilot, always blowing on the plane before giving it a good toss high in to the air and then excitedly clapping their hands as it dive bombed to the ground.  I can now say I am a paper airplane making expert! 

These kids are really incredible, using wire to make funny glasses, stuffing plastic bags together to make a ball, using condoms to make balloons, soda cans to make cars.  It’s both humbling and breaks my heart a little, thinking about all those toys I still have lying unused back at home. 

I can officially say that I am passing my last week here in Murrupula.  This whole COS process has been very dragged out, probably the longest goodbye-process I have ever experienced.  I am one of the last groups of Moz 17ers to go, a lot of people have already returned home!  And frankly, I’m ready for it to just end already, just rip off the band-aid and be done with it.  Sometimes these days are dragging on with nothing really to do, too hot to go outside or walk around but too hot to sit inside.  I find myself going through quite a range of emotions - happy, sad, nostalgic, excited, frustrated, and everything in between.  I’ve been thinking back on the work that I’ve done here and those projects I never got a chance to do.  Looking at family photos back at home, longing to be a part of those again.  Feeling like I “should” go do something in my last days here, play an extra hour with the kids when they come by.  I’ve had kids over to the house every day, even during times when I didn’t really want to play, but it’s hard to not think about how it’s really the last moments I’ll have with them. 

Check out these shoes!

We officially have a new replacement, Michaela.  I don’t really know much about her, but I’m really excited for her to have, hopefully, as amazing of an experience as I did during my two years here.  

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Last Trip

Sunday marked just 20 days left for me in Mozambique and I still can’t quite wrap my head around it.  Already, some volunteers from my group have officially completed their service.  Some of them have even already arrived back home in the states!

As for me, I just returned home from my last travel adventure with some of my closest friends.  Last week, we visited Tony’s site in Imala, probably one of the most rural, or most “mato”, sites of any of the volunteers in our group - just recently got cell phone service but no electricity.  Of course it was a typical travel adventure on the ride in when the driver decided to turn off his engine in the middle of the biggest hill.  Everyone hopped out of the truck, the women beginning their decent up the hill as the men all gathered together to push the truck up the hill (though it would have been much easier to let it roll to the bottom which was much closer).  Finally, they got it to the top of the hill, gave it a running start and the engine was up and running again. Ugh, travelling… But we eventually made it there!

Imala sunset
Due to some of the political conflicts in country right now (I’m safe and Peace Corps keeps us very updated on everything), we thought it safer to not travel too much and celebrated Halloween back in Murrupula 
Our outdoor "nest" to escape the indoor heat
before heading to Ilha de Moçambique for our last week all together.  It was a “tough” week filled with eating delicious food like freshly caught seafood, gnocchi, pizza, and club sandwiches, swimming in the beautiful blue water, playing cards, and creating some great memories with friends.  We spent our last night watching the always incredible African sunset, all of us thinking how lucky we were to be able to experience such a sight together, reflecting on our past two years, not believing it is actually coming to an end, and wondering what’s in store for our futures. 
I was a ninja for Halloween
Our typical swimming spot at the end of the pier
Last sunset on Ilha
While Kevin and Tony are now on their way out of country, the rest of us headed back to our sites for our final couple of weeks.  It’s always hard returning home from a vacation, having to go to the market, clean the house, get back to work, etc.  Feeling a little apathetic, soon after arriving home, I braved the afternoon sun to walk to the market.  Six little boys came running down the street to greet me, immediately grabbing my hands and fighting over who got to hold them as we walked together.  Neighbors greeted me with smiling faces and more children appeared to say hello.  “Where did you disappear to?!”  they asked me somewhat angrily, no doubt having spent significant amounts of time calling for me at my house while we were away.  I have a feeling these next two weeks are going to be filled with a lot of emotional ups and downs.
My two favorite Madison boys - Tony and Adam
Though I have been making an effort to inform people that we are leaving, forever, it’s not something they seem to totally understand.  When they already assume I travel to America on the weekends, trying to explain that I am going back there and will not be back here doesn’t seem to quite compute in their minds.  Now that I can say I have just two weeks left, it seems to be setting in a bit more for some of them, maybe.  Until they again bring up something about me being here next year…

These last two weeks in Murrupula are going to be pretty low key.  The town is fairly quite now that school is over and students have already finished their exams.  It’s generally over 100˚ before 9 or 10am, so you can’t do much other than sit in front of a fan.  We have a going away party planned for Saturday with some of our colleagues and friends and then a smaller dinner planned for our last night next week.  Otherwise, I’ll be keeping myself occupied by packing and sorting through what stays, what goes, and what comes back home, playing with children and chatting with neighbors, enjoying doing nothing and taking it all in.

Monday, October 28, 2013

It's Never too Late for a First

“Sara”, called an eight year old neighbor, “I heard there was a party at the library this morning!” 

The building of the library took a lot longer than I had hoped and after its opening, I felt somewhat bad and definitely disappointed that I wouldn’t have much time to try to start some reading programs with the community.  I felt a little like I had dumped the library on my counterparts and then was kind of abandoning it, hoping they would be able to execute the projects we had discussed like organizing children’s reading sessions, finding volunteers who would help out with the library’s programs, holding a mini training to demonstrate and discuss some methods for working with kids and how to plan a session.  But these past few months had flown by and my hopes of seeing such activities executed were slowly diminishing as I faced the reality of leaving soon. 

Turns out, I had nothing to worry about!  By its own initiative, this week, AJUDEMU, the community organization responsible for the library, organized a group of nine eager student volunteers and created programming for a mobile library project.

The volunteers in their fancy Mobile Library t-shirts
I had always known my counterpart Iassito was an incredible guy with a great amount of initiative and passion for helping his community.  He had arrived on Saturday afternoon, informing me that he had the idea of taking some volunteers to the smaller surrounding towns outside our vila, hoping to spread the knowledge of the existence of the library and reach a larger audience who didn’t have easy access to it.  

On Sunday, we met with 9 student volunteers for a planning meeting.  They designed their program for the session including read aloud and individual reading time, local songs and dances, games like Hot Potato and João (just like Simon Says), and educational games to review the alphabet, spelling, and numbers.  I was impressed by all of their ideas and left the programming entirely up to them.

On Monday, they did a small rehearsal of their programming with children from our community, becoming the first of what will hopefully be monthly children’s sessions at the library.

As they prepared in the morning, I walked around the neighborhood, asking any child I encountered if they wanted to study and play.  Though they often looked at me utterly confused, I got them to follow me to the library, eventually gathering a group of about 50-60 children of all ages. 

I was a fly on the wall during the session, excitedly watching the volunteers interacting with the 50 or so children, my counterparts leading them and taking control, myself not really having to do anything but take pictures.  And the kids loved it!  They practiced writing their letters in the sand.  Counted aloud forwards and backwards.  Attentively listened to their volunteer leader reading a book aloud.  Excitedly paged through a book themselves, sounding out a few of the words or just looking at the pictures on the pages.  It was such an awesome experience to see the community taking control, using the resources we had gathered, having a passion for doing such a project that I had envisioned but that they designed and implemented all on their own, on their own initiative!  I felt totally confident, knowing that the library couldn’t be in better hands, that with my counterpart’s passion and incredible ability to motivate people, he could really do great things with the library.  It still has its growing and expansion, trials and errors to overcome, but it’s slowly making progress in becoming the dream both Iassito and I had envisioned. 

Demonstrating a local dance called Eyuna
Another dance

Playing hot potato

The volunteers are planning this week to go to a local orphanage in a small town called Nihessiue located about 18km outside of our vila.  Though I’m sad to not go with them, it’s time to let this project run on it’s own and I’m excited to hear about their experience afterwards.  They are an awesome group of teenagers who all seem truly interested in helping with the program, in helping their community. 

“Yes,” I responded to my little friend, “We studied, danced, played games.  And there is going to be another one on Saturday.”  “Yeah, I heard,” he responded, “I’ll be there!”

Thursday, October 24, 2013


For some reason, whenever I think about going home, I imagine myself in my green bathroom at home.  I’m not sure why exactly.  Maybe it’s the room that is the most different than anything else I am used to living with?  Green tiling, running hot water, huge mirror, indoor toilet with a seat!  And I try to imagine what it’ll feel like being there again, that being my norm again, and it’s hard to imagine.  I can’t believe how normal the things around me have become here! 

But the goodbyes continue.

This past week I had my despedidas (farewell parties) with my English and REDES groups.  As is culturally normal for any Mozambican celebration, the honoree must arrange and pay for her own party.  On Monday, for my last English meeting, I bought some bottles of coca-cola (the coca-cola here is made with real sugar and nothing can beat it on a hot day!), packets of cookies, popped a bunch of popcorn and set up a movie viewing area in the patio of the library.  We first started watching Finding Nemo in English, to which my students quickly asked me if I understood what they were saying.  Clearly they weren’t understanding the English version, so we switched over to Procura de Nemo, the Portuguese version.  After the movie, I thanked them all for their hard work throughout the year and told them I would always remember our time together and wished them all the best in their futures.  I had burned a CD for each of them with the video of their English Theater performance from our competition, the songs we had learned the words to during our lessons (The Wanted - Glad You Came, which became our groups theme song; Katy Perry - Hot ‘N Cold; Louis Armstrong - What a Wonderful World; Kelly Clarkson - Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)) and also printed our group photo for each of them.  The students then surprised me with some gifts of their own.  Two students gave me a wooden bracelet, one a brand new pen, and another an English book entitled Peace is Every Step.  The sentiments were so sweet and I was truly touched.  I’ll definitely miss those boys!

Yes, Judite is using Vanda's foot to hold her string.
Then on Thursday, I had my REDES despedida.  The plan was also to watch a movie in Portuguese with them, but the power had been out since the morning before, so that made that plan a little more difficult.  Instead, Adrienne offered a huge bag of colored string to use and we spent a few hours making friendship bracelets.  Again, I provided the expected cookies and juice refreshments, and the girls certainly loved making the bracelets!  

Thanks to the generosity of Carla Buchanan and her company Business Brandings, I ended the despedida by presenting each of the girls with a REDES Murrupula pink polo t-shirt, complete with rhinestones on the collar.  They loved them!  

Thank you to my Mom and Carla for designing and making these shirts for them!

Honestly, I’m not sure what will become of these groups next year, if they will continue on or perhaps die out.  Lidia, my REDES counterpart, is amazing and very passionate about the group, but really it depends on the girls and if they are interested in continuing.  They definitely all agreed that they want to do more dances next year for the community.  Honestly, the group was not what I had dreamed it would be, but it still has the potential to get there, especially with Lidia as its leader.  I definitely had great memories with those girls and watched them grow a little bit throughout the year.  And it’s opened doors to AJUDEMU and REDES, becoming more recognized by the community and even the local government which is a great opportunity as well!

So, as time gets closer and the weeks continue to wind down, I keep finding myself imagining being in that green bathroom at home again.  Trying to recognize my reflection in that mirror and reflecting back on who I have become during this incredible experience and where it will take me in the future.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sala de Informatica

 It’s filled with some of my favorite memories and some of my most frustrating memories.  A place where patience came up against all types of frustrations, sometimes winning, sometimes losing.  I was there every Monday through Thursday, repeating the same lesson twelve times every week.  It’s my Sala de Informática, the computer room.

Though still facing complications with unreliable electricity and technological malfunctions, this second year of teaching was a huge leap from last year’s attempt.  Aside from being more comfortable with the language, I also had more realistic expectations for my students, better ideas of how to teach computer lessons, and better new computers to teach them on.

Teaching computers is not easy, that’s for sure.  When students have no knowledge or background, or perhaps have never even seen a computer, you must start from the very beginning, even before the beginning.  Combine that with the fact that students outnumber usable computers 3:1, classes are 30-40 minutes just once a week, and electricity comes and goes as it pleases.  What can you expect anyone to teach, let alone learn in such a short amount of time?

Though definitely not all of my students, maybe not even half, finished the year with a super solid understanding of the material, I can confidently name many who did, and I think (hope) that many walked away with at least something, even if it was just the story of having had the opportunity to use a computer.  During our last class, my student Luis said, “Teacher, you taught us all the basics.  Now we can do anything with a computer!”

Inocencio, Islaito, and Amilo modeling for the camera

The Sala is also the school's storage room.
These books are supposed to be for distance school, but they've been
here all year... and those on the right are the broken computers from last year.
Luis is one of those students who definitely
mastered the basics and is going to go on to
do great things.
Inocencio works on creating his health advertisement project on HIV

Though I was definitely exhausted and done with teaching computers by the end of this year, it was certainly sad to lock up the room for the last time.  Students would say, "See you next year!" to which I had to reply, "Nope, this is it."  It's a very surreal feeling.  In my last few weeks, I'm working with some of the school administrators to teach them how to use the computer program and pass on some of the tips I have learned during my time here.  Hopefully next year, they can have more than just one computer teacher and continue to take full advantage of the incredible resource available for these students.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The End of the School Year

When you bring out a camera, everyone gets so excited to have their picture taken, running up to you shouting “Take one of me! Over here!” and then posing model-esque and putting on their best serious face as you capture the moment.  It’s hilarious, and a little overwhelming, when you show them the photo on the camera review and they all grab for it and shout over each other, laughing when they see the picture.

This describes my last week of school.  I brought in my camera to take a last photo with each of my classes and they were so excited!  As we were all grouped together, my students nearly knocking me over as they pressed in around me for the picture, it suddenly hit me that this was it, the last day of school, my last day with these awesome students, my last day as a teacher in Mozambique.

All week, I had been feeling somewhat down, tired of my same routine: wake up 6am, work out, heat up water for my bucket bath, quick breakfast, head to school, repeat the same thing a million times to students who seemed to not remember much of anything I had taught all year, walk home in the ever increasing afternoon sun, lunch, maybe an afternoon meeting, then dinner, sleep, and repeat.  It was some of my first solid moments of thinking to myself, ok I’m ready to go.  Even the children running up to me from 50 yards away for their high five didn’t quite cheer me up all the way.

And then there was this huge Last as a snap back to reality.  There have already been a lot of Lasts lately, last science fair, last Peace Corps conference, last time with my other volunteer friends, but this was a big Last and one that I couldn’t suppress and shine on quite like the others. 

In talking with a student about my not returning next year, he took a moment to himself and then said, “Teacher, we are going to miss you a lot.  It was so good to meet you and get to know you and I don’t think there is anyone else like Professora Sara and I won’t ever meet anyone like you again.”  It was hard to hold back the tears. 

For whatever reason, the day turned in to a very emotional one, with a lot of discussions about my future, the future of the library, how we are going to communicate when I leave, all those things that I’m not quite ready to deal with just yet.  But will there ever be a right time to truly acknowledge that soon will be my last time leaving my little town?  I dare say it’s only going to keep getting harder.  And while I know it’s time for me to go, time to move on and begin the next phase of my life, and that I’m definitely ready to be home, I don’t think anyone is every truly ready to leave.  You leave your stuff behind, lots of stretched out and worn clothes, that bicycle I used that one time, but you take so much more with you.  Memories and experiences that have changed you in ways you can’t quite yet know.

And honestly, I’m a little terrified of returning home.  Afraid of the feelings of guilt at jumping back in to my first world lifestyle, perhaps feeling judgmental at the ignorance of people around me, not connecting with friends like I used to, fear of an unknown future and what’s next for me, and so much more.  One big lesson that I have learned here is that, with time, everything gets easier.  Some have described returning home as comparable to jumping on to a moving treadmill.  I anticipate all those feelings that come with any break or change in your usual routine as you begin something new in life.  Most importantly, it is always a comfort knowing I am lucky enough to have a place to go home to.

And so I am still taking in all the lasts as they occur here in my last few weeks, playing with those neighbor children or working with students a little longer than I normally would, hoping to solidify those memories a little bit more.

Some of my high-fiving buddies

Some of the school administrators and a few professors