Queremos a Paz (We Want Peace)

I feel an extra responsibility to bring all of the good and wonderful things about Mozambique, its people, its culture, and  what’s going on here to everyone’s attention because, judging from all of the e-mails, texts, and newspaper articles that I’ve gotten in the mail, it seems like people are pretty good at digging up all of the bad things going on here and letting me know about them. So in line with that, there’s some news to start the new year. The head of the opposition party, RENAMO, just signed a three month peace treaty with the ruling party, FRELIMO, to put a halt to the sort-of-but-not-really-depending-on-who-you-ask civil war with the hopes of bringing back international moderators to sign a permanent treaty. And it sounds like the mandatory military escorts throughout the central part of the country have been lifted, meaning hopefully our travel restrictions through the middle of the country, separating the volunteers here from each other, will be lifted one day if progress continues.

A Day in Angoche

So, it strikes me that my post, “Settling In,” didn’t actually have much information about my life in Angoche so far so here’s a post about what my typical daily routine is to give you an idea of what I’ve been up to and how I’ve been adjusting to life in Angoche:

5:00 A.M.- I normally wake up because of how bright it is outside and because of the heat. I usually try unsuccessfully to fall back asleep after this.

6:30 A.M.- I give up on sleeping and get out of bed. Then I boil water for coffee and to pour through my filter to drink.

7:00 A.M.- I walk up to the bakery to buy fresh bread and eggs, and I say hello to all of my neighbors on the way home. By this point it’s like 90 degrees with 85% humidity so I work up a good sweat just walking around. After that I go home and eat breakfast.

8:00 A.M.- Once I’ve finished breakfast, I clean the kitchen and then exercise. I normally pick out four exercises, usually focused on two or three muscles, and take a deck of card. I assign one exercise to each suit, and I start drawing cards. I do the exercise based on the suit of the card and I do it as many times as the number on the card (face cards are worth 10, aces are 11). I’m pretty sweaty and gross by the time I finish that so a shower comes next.

9:30 A.M. – I go to the market almost every day at around this time because there normally aren’t people there when I go to the bakery. I usually run into my friend Dinha, an 8-year-old girl who helps me pick out the best vegetables while her mom gives me the same I’m-sorry-my-daughter-is-bothering-you smile that a mom in America would give someone if their kid was doing the same thing to a random adult in a grocery store. The only things the market reliably has are beans, onions, and potatoes. Most of the time they have tomatoes, bell peppers, garlic, and coconuts. On a good day you can find cucumbers, carrots, and cabbage. It’s pretty unpredictable so I decide what I’m going to cook for dinner when I get there. Luckily, those vegetable were pretty much what I lived off of back home so I can normally make a lot of the same food I ate back home. There are also people out on the street on almost every corner with blankets selling mangoes and maybe bananas and okra too so I sometimes stop by one of those on the way home to buy okra if I can.

10:30 A.M.- Most days I try to do an hour of chores around the house like doing laundry or cleaning the bathroom, but sometimes I just sit in front of my fan watching movies or reading or writing or something. From 10:30 until 4:00 it’s too hot to leave the house. The UV index, which I thought only went up to 10, is normally 11, and at midday your body hardly casts any shadow because the sun is directly above you.

12:00 P.M.- Lunchtime! I either eat leftovers or rice with veggies, normally okra if I can find it because it’s so inexpensive here. $1 U.S. could buy you probably over 5 pounds of okra, and that’s not an exaggeration.

4:30 P.M.- After several hours of hiding in front of my fan, I go and play basketball with some friends.

6:00 P.M.- After basketball, I shower and cook dinner.

9:00 P.M.- Once I finish dinner I clean up, hide in front of my fan, and either read or write until I go to bed. I sometimes hang out with all of the neighborhood kids for a bit and ruin their games of hide and seek from my balcony vantage point.

Settling In

After spending the night in Nampula City, I woke up early to do some shopping because it was a long trip to Angoche, and Tyler and I didn’t want to get there too late at night. Luckily, the duffle bag I had with me was half empty (that’s right, it wasn’t half full) so I planned on filling it with food that wouldn’t go bad before I got to site. I bought some really exciting foods like lentils, brown rice, fancy olive oil, and other stuff like that. To make my house feel like home, I bought some Christmas lights, candles, a good kitchen knife, etc. I also bought a little inflatable ball because the family I stayed with when I visited Angoche, my current neighbors, had a 3-year-old son, and he would dig through trash piles to find absolutely anything for us to play with like a bottle cap or a busted clothes pin. He was covered in skin infections and stuff, and I figured playing with garbage wasn’t helping so I decided that a ball would be a welcomed gift.

I stuffed all of those things into my duffle bag and headed to the bus station with Tyler. We wound up sitting in the cab of the same “mini-bus” that I took the first time I went from Nampula City to Angoche. I passed the trip, which took a couple hours longer than usual because we had to stop a couple of times to make repairs, looking out of the window and trying to establish a proper mindset for being a volunteer in Mozambique. Being here to see and hear about the suffering and all of the other struggles facing Mozambicans and their society makes it difficult to accept the very limited impact I’ll have here. After all, I came here to help, but no matter what I do people will continue dying of AIDS and malaria. No matter how hard I try, every night the entryways to shops will be occupied by those that can’t afford to have a roof over their heads sleeping just outside of the locked doors, and a high percentage of children will lack access to a decent education. That’s tough to swallow, but then I remembered a quote that I read in the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient book of Hindu wisdom:

You have the right to work only, but not for the results of work. Do not let your motivation for action be influenced by reward, and do not become attached to inaction. Perform work in this world Arjuna, as a man established within himself—without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. (2:47-48)

Basically, what this is saying is to do work without worrying about the results of your work without just giving up on doing anything. I believe that the Peace Corps’ mission of sustainable development, which is in line with my own views, and to the best of my knowledge is a good thing. Just taking part in it is what matters regardless of the impact that I have. Just being a positive influence for young people and having fun are good things to do, and as long as I’m doing those things, I can’t hold myself personally responsible for all of the tragic things that happen here (or a single tragic thing, really). I just have to trust that what I’m doing here is good and try to enjoy it without worrying about achieving a single tangible result. I know that might sound a little selfish or pessimistic, but I think that’s the best way be a caring, passionate volunteer without constantly feeling defeating by a lack of results.

Furthermore, every little result here should be seen as important. If I work with a local counterpart on a program to prevent malaria, and one single parent decides to have their child sleep under a mosquito net, that’s a big deal. If I can convince one teenager to use condoms to prevent the spread of HIV, that’s huge. Whether or not that counterpart continues the program after I leave or if the teenager tells their friends to use condoms too, which would also be great things, there has been a positive impact on the world. Something like that can prevent a person’s life from being destroyed or even ended because of a preventable disease. If I can help one person with that, I should be proud (as should any volunteer). That’s a real person, just like you, with friends and family. That life matters, even if you can only reach one.

Break Time!

After about eight hours of letting all of those thoughts run through my mind, we arrived in Angoche. Ever since, we’ve just been getting used to Angoche, organizing our second floor apartment, getting to know people, and beginning to think about what projects, outside of teaching, we’d want to do. I have a lot of ideas already. I’m thinking about starting a community library through the Peace Corps’ early grade reading assessment program (EGRA), if my community is interested. I’ve heard a lot of volunteers, including the ones that we’re replacing, say that when the students get to high school, a lot still have trouble reading and doing basic math so I was thinking about trying to work with young kids in my neighborhood to help them improve on those skills before they get to high school. I’ll just have to find a local counterpart to lead the program so it keeps going on after I leave.

I’d also like to do some work on malaria prevention, and a local friend of mine actually approached me recently about working together on a project to improve access to mosquito nets. I absolutely hate malaria. In 2012, over 600,000 people, mostly children in Africa died from malaria, a disease that is both preventable and treatable. If you do the math, that comes out to over 800 lives needlessly lost each day. That’s the equivalent of two of the terror attacks on September 11th every week. I just don’t understand how that isn’t front page news every single day. I don’t know how this gets overshadowed by so many other issues. Imagine if one little American kid died of Malaria today. It would be all over the news. Laws would get passed. Foundations would be set up in their honor. Yet that happens all the time in places like Mozambique and it doesn’t even seem to be on many people’s radar in the wealthy corners of the world. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

My next idea was to work a little bit at the youth center in our town. I taught a couple of advanced English classes there, and it was a lot of fun. The students were all really smart and friendly. I was thinking of seeing if anybody there would be interested in doing a weekly poetry class/club or something of the sorts because I’m a giant nerd. I think people would be interested because that group of kids loves rap, and that would help. However, my first impression of the youth center in town was that it was mostly the more wealthy, well-educated teenage boys at the center. The youth center is in a bit more well-off part of town, whereas I live in the poor part of town so I mostly want to work in my neighborhood because it seems like those kids would benefit more from a little extra attention.

Finally, there’s the reason why I got sent to Angoche in the first place: basketball. I’m not sure what the community wants yet in terms of the type of program they’d prefer, and the volunteer I’m replacing said that he was never able to find a definitive counterpart to lead the program, which is a big obstacle. Again, it’s important to find a local person to lead the program because if I just do everything myself then anything I start will dissolve after I leave in two years. I’ve been playing most afternoons at the basketball court at the big high school in Angoche. There are two other courts in town. The first is absolutely beautiful. It’s right on the ocean and surrounded by palm trees. The only problem is that the posts don’t have backboards and rims on them. The other court is next to a church. The backboard is made out of boards and the rim is just a piece of rebar bent into almost a circle, but not quite. It isn’t ideal, but it works.

Playing at the court at the high school is a lot of fun. It has a good street ball vibe to it. The lines on the court are all faded, there are always a ton of people sitting around watching, and there are palm trees surrounding the chain-link fence around the court. There a wide skill range among the players. Some people just launch the ball as hard as they can at the backboard and others will break somebody’s ankles, drain a step-back jumper, and do the dance from the “Thriller” music video over the defender. People here are really devoted to basketball. They play every day and they pool their money together to buy cell phone data to stream NBA highlights and basketball tutorials. The people I play with are all very athletic, too. Sometimes I think I’ll have an easy basket because a defender’s out of position, but they’re so fast that they’ll still manage to recover and block my shot.

So, it looks like I’ll have to figure out what my priorities will be once I start teaching and getting into these other projects. I’m not sure what I’ll have time for, but I’m hoping that the embarrassment I’d feel about writing this blog post and not following up on any of those projects will motivate me more. Finally, I have a couple more blog posts that should be ready soon so stay tuned!

 

 

Swearing In

We had to wake up really early that morning a couple of Wednesdays ago to load into buses to head from Namaacha to Maputo for our official swearing-in ceremony. I was still feeling sad from saying goodbye to my family when I saw something that made me laugh. It was my reflection in the window. I’ve been so used to seeing myself with a full beard that seeing myself without it caught me off guard. All I had now was a mustache. It wasn’t just me, though. A lot of the guys in my group shaved mustaches to blend in with Sanjay, the head of Peace Corps Mozambique, who we’d be seeing in Maputo. The mustaches ranged from magnificent to pre-pubescent. There was a mixed opinion on mine. Some people thought I looked like White Goodman from Dodgeball, while other people thought I looked like a 14-year-old wearing a fake mustache. I’ll let you decide:

Anyways, after a while I started getting cranky because the buses we were in weren’t moving. The Peace Corps staff in Namaacha had to track down another ride for a handful of trainees that did fit on the buses. It’s weird that over three months with only one person leaving our group that they didn’t know how many of us there would be, but we eventually got it figured out and hit the road.

After a little less than two hours crammed in a bus with the other people in my group, we finally made it to the main Peace Corps office in Maputo. They had some snacks, and most of us, myself exempted, spent the free time that we had there to make themselves look nice for the ceremony. I’m super indifferent about everything, especially how I look, so I was sort of bored while people were busy doing that. After about an hour or an hour and half, we all gathered and sat in the folding chairs they had lined up on the lawn behind the office building for the first part of the swearing-in ceremony. Normally we’d do the entire ceremony, consisting of speeches, a U.S. government oath, and the Peace Corps pledge, at one place. However, this year the ceremony was to take place at the Ministry of Education’s headquarters, and, apparently, the Mozambican government didn’t want us pledging to uphold the U.S. constitution in a Mozambican government building so we had to do that part of the ceremony at the Peace Corps office before heading to the ministry building.

When we arrived, we walked into the building, up the stairs, and into a large conference room. The air conditioning felt great after doing the government pledge outside in the heat wearing our matching capulana shirts, which did not breathe well at all. The ceremony started by announcing all of the volunteers by the province we would be teaching in. Next there were speeches by Sanjay, the U.S. ambassador to Mozambique, a couple of volunteers, and some sort of high ranking education official. We were supposed to have the minister of education speak, but they were fired a couple of days before the ceremony. Rumor has it, though I can’t support this with any sort of evidence, that they were fired for not going along with government corruption, but you didn’t hear that from me.

Break Time!

Sprinkled in between the speeches were some bits of “entertainment” provided by some of the volunteers. It seemed a bit out of place, and I’m not really sure whose idea it was to include this in the ceremony because no group has ever done anything like that before. Towards the beginning, some people did an a cappella remix version of the Mozambican national anthem. There isn’t a lot that I’ve seen Mozambicans take very seriously, but if there’s one thing they do it’s the national anthem. Everybody stands perfectly straight with their hands pinned to their sides, and they all sing along for the entire three verses with six repetitions of the chorus. The singers’ version sounded cool, but you could tell it made a lot of the locals uncomfortable. Later in the ceremony, a bunch of people performed a step dance. It wasn’t bad or anything, but this also seemed out of place because this was meant to be an acknowledgement of what we’re here for, not a big self-indulgent celebration. All-in-all, it seemed like it was more for the people involved than for anybody else, but maybe I just feel that way because I’m a curmudgeon.

After the ceremony we had some refreshments and took a bunch of group pictures, including one with all of the mustaches. Then we all headed over to a really nice hotel where we would stay the night. The first thing I did was to shave the mustache off of my face which exposed me for the 14-year-old that I am and look like without facial hair. After that, we ordered a pizza from an actual Pizza Hut and took a trip to the liquor store. For the next couple hours a lot of us hung out by the pool, ate, and drank. I tried to drink, but after the amount we celebrated in Namaacha over the past couple of days, I just couldn’t do anymore. I had a lot of fun hanging out with people, but my stomach just couldn’t handle anymore alcohol. Once the night started getting pretty late a lot of people went out to a night club, but I decided to say my goodbyes and get to bed.

The next morning, all of the volunteers heading to the provinces of Niassa or Nampula, myself included, had a 6:45 A.M. flight to catch. People started taking cabs from the hotel to the airport at about 4:30, but I caught the latest cab and got to the airport at a little after 5:00. We hurried into the check-in line, and got there just behind the people who took the taxi before ours. The people ahead of the four of us from my cab got on the flight alright, but when we got to the front of the line, they started specifically asking for people going to Niassa. When they finished calling those people, we finally headed up to the desk. They told us that the flight was full and we’d have to get on a different flight. A high-ranking commandante and his posse showed up at the last minute and commandeered a bunch of seats on the flight for some reason. They gave the people headed to Niassa priority because the flight goes to Nampula City, drops people off, picks people up, then flies to Lichinga, Niassa, but this was the only flight there this week so they let them go ahead. That left the four of us, a handful of angry Chinese businessmen, and maybe eight other people standing at the check-in counter trying to re-schedule our flights. We got on a flight later that evening.

The Peace Corps wasn’t too happy about the whole situation, but they picked us up from the airport, gave us money for food for the day, and gave us money to stay the night in Nampula City that night because we’d get there late. We wound up actually having a great day, especially because the three other people I was stranded with are my favorite volunteers who are going to Nampula with me. While we were waiting for our ride to get us from the airport, we played Farkle and ate breakfast at the café in the building’s entryway. After that we hung out in the Peace Corps office with the last couple of volunteers who were just finishing their service and were filling out a final bit of paperwork. They had some really interesting perspectives on service and some good advice that the volunteers who came to help with our training might not have been comfortable saying in front of the Peace Corps staff. After that, we had a big lunch in Maputo at a fancy café before heading back to the airport ridiculously early. Some other volunteers decided to spend the night in Nampula City before heading to their sites so they booked all of us in the same hostel they were staying in so when we arrived we met up with them and just hung out for the rest of the night. For the second time in my life, while traveling, missing a flight led to a much more enjoyable situation than the one that was originally planned (click on the colored part to read about the other time something like this happened or just click here. No, Nana, not there. Just scroll the mouse over any colored text on the screen and click. In fact, I’m making this whole sentence colored, just click anywhere on it.)

Phase 3: AKA the beginning of the end of the beginning

In August, I never would have believed that I’d be so excited to get back to a family I had only known for less than two months after only two and a half weeks away, but here I was. I couldn’t wait to see my family as I speed walked from the main road, where the chapa dropped me off, back to my house to see my host family again. I went on to spend most of my first week at home with them instead of using my free time to see my fellow volunteers. I was a little surprised, actually, because I was expecting to be excited to catch up with all of my friends and hear how their time visiting their sites was, but I really just wanted to watch Brazilian telenovelas. My focus, along with all of my peers, on the actual training part of training (language classes, teacher training, etc.) was a little lessened compared to what it had been before site visits. We joked that it felt like the last semester in high school, and it certainly felt a little like high school with our supervisors’ new emphasis on enforcing rules like our curfew.

The next week was the election, and the first polls were set to close at around 2 A.M Wednesday morning for us so the Peace Corps staff brought a TV to the Namaacha office so we could watch the election together. We spent Tuesday afternoon buying caffeinated beverages, snacks, and other treats to celebrate what we all assumed would be an early night with a predictable result. That obviously wasn’t the case, and the results slowly trickled in all night. Before we knew it, nobody had slept, and the official projection wasn’t made until an hour and a half after lessons were supposed to start. I was in no state to go to class so I went home and tried, unsuccessfully, to sleep. I plan on writing a blog post about my exact feelings on the election, but suffice it to say that the days following the election were the lowest point I’ve had since I’ve been here. I’m supposed to be a teacher, share Mozambican culture with America, and share American culture with Mozambicans. However, my school and students are so poor that it’s really hard for them to focus on learning, a handful of things I saw or that happened while I was visiting my site made me not so proud of this new culture, and seeing some 60 million people vote for a candidate running principals of fear, anger, hatred, and exclusion made me sick that I’d have to answer questions Mozambicans would have for me about Trump.

Little by little, though, by seeing little kids playing in the street, talking to my host family, and just thinking about it, I eventually got back to normal. In fact, there are days when I’m even more motivated than ever to be here. Shortly after I got back on my feet, we started giving practice teaching lessons at the village high school. It was tough because it was the last week of class and the students had already finished their finals and state exams so most students didn’t show up. The students that did show up didn’t seem too excited to be there, either. That being said, and despite my massive fear of high school students, I wound up having a lot of fun. My Portuguese is at a point where I could just talk without putting too much thought into it so we just had a fun little chat about triangles. I really enjoyed it, and I somehow managed to get really good reviews from the Peace Corps staff member who watched my classes. Suddenly, I became even more excited to swear in, get to site, and start teaching.

Shortly after that we had the homestay competition, where we broke into teams and got graded for how well we can do Mozambican chores/do chores the Mozambican way. We had to crush peanuts into peanut flour, shred coconuts, hand wash clothes, and light a charcoal fire for cooking without gas or electricity. I was very, very nervous because the volunteer who stayed with my host family before me said she got really bad scores in the contest, and our host mom was genuinely disappointed with her. It became apparent. This was the Superbowl for my mãe. I’d come home for lunch and nobody would be home. There’d just be two or three coconuts sitting on the table with a note saying to shred them. The morning of the contest I got woken up at 5 A.M. to train for a couple of hours. With the support of my mãe, I got an 18/20. She was so proud of me that she gave me a big hug and a kiss.

The following week was Thanksgiving. We went to Maputo to have a semi-authentic Thanksgiving lunch at the house of Sanjay, the director of Peace Corps Mozambique. It was amazing. There were three kinds of mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, tofu, salads, cranberry sauce, and stuffing. Oh, they also had turkey and gravy, if you’re into that sort of thing. They said we could be relaxed and that it wasn’t formal so, since it was really hot that day, I just wore clean-ish shorts and a t-shirt. That would have been fine, but nobody told me that the U.S. ambassador to Mozambique was going to be there and eat with us. I got to talk to him for a little bit, and he seemed pretty easy going. I wanted to make a joke about how the president just lets his biggest donors be ambassadors and ask how much it cost to get his job, but I had to bite my lip or else he probably would have had me deported. In all seriousness, it didn’t seem like he’s here for that reason.

Break time!

After we ate, we didn’t linger long before heading back to Namaacha. That night I skyped my family in America, and they got to meet my host family. It was hands down one of the most fun things I’ve done in Mozambique. Because of the time difference most of my host family was asleep by the time we were able to skype, but my mãe and Mana Quita were both awake. It was a lot of fun to show my host family my American family, how Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, and they even got to see a snowman. I franticly had to translate back and forth because everyone in both of my families had a lot to say and had a lot of questions for the other side. My youngest siblings’ curiosity overcame their shyness and they spent a lot of time in front of the camera, and my great grandma even got to see my family, though I’m not sure that she fully understood what was going on. We all had a lot of fun, and it felt even better because that sort of cultural exchange is what the Peace Corps is all about so I accidently did a good thing.

That Saturday, our last Saturday in Namaacha, we had a sending-off with all of our host families. The families from each neighborhood all received matching capulanas, patterned pieces of fabric that people here use for everything, including making clothes out of them. All of the mães in my neighborhood were really upset, though, because the families in every other neighborhood received their capulanas well in advance so they were able to have matching outfits made. However, we didn’t get ours until the night before the ceremony so the women just had to wear theirs as skirts, and the men just wore theirs as sashes.

The ceremony started out with a song of gratitude from a group of host family members and Peace Corps staff. It was led by Julio, one of the guys who drives a car for the Peace Corps. I’ve talked to him a lot, but I had no idea how good he was at singing and dancing. After that, there were speeches by the Peace Corps staff, host families, and two volunteers expressing gratitude towards each other. Finally, they opened the floor to any host parents who might have anything to say. I stared at the back of my mãe’s head a couple rows in front of me and hoped with my whole being that she wouldn’t go up. Naturally, though, she hopped up and ran to the microphone to get there before any other families could. She gave a very touching speech about the value of getting to know people who look different than you, people who live in a different place than you, and people who live a completely different lifestyle than you. It was a great speech, and she got so into it that she would either make huge hand gestures that would move the mic away from her mouth so you couldn’t her or she’d walk right in front of the speaker causing a super loud feedback squeal. After the speeches, they handed out certificates of gratification to all of the host families, took a lot of pictures of us, and we had a huge meal that rivaled our Thanksgiving lunch in both the deliciousness of the food and the amount.

For our last couple days in Namaacha, before our swearing-in ceremony the following Wednesday, we all tried our best to balance seeing our host families as much as possible with having a lot of fun with our fellow trainees before we all get shipped to separate corners of the country. I rarely drank in America so spending a couple nights out in a row and playing drinking games for the first time left me not feeling to well when everyone wanted to celebrate after swearing in, but that’s a story for another blog post.

I’m Taking my Talents to Angoche…and Never Leaving Because the Road In and Out is so Terrible

“A real chapa should come sometime between 10 A.M. and 3 P.M.,” said one of the volunteers that I’ll be replacing to my roommate and me the night before we had to leave Angoche to head back to Nampula City. Naturally, then, we got to the place in Angoche, along the main road, where the chapas, large vans that drive people from town to town in Mozambique, stop to pick people up right at 10. It was already getting hot, and I could tell that neither my roommate, Tyler, nor I was excited with the prospect of waiting six hours so when a not-quite-full pickup truck pulled up and offered a discounted ride to Nampula City we jumped at the opportunity. Tyler found some space among our fourteen new, and very close, friends on the floor in the bed of the truck, while I balanced myself on the tailgate with my right leg wedged between the legs of a woman crammed on the floor and my other leg jammed between the edge of the truck and a bucket of fish.

Within a couple seconds of settling in, we were off flying dangerously quickly down the few miles of paved road leading out of my town. I loved every second of it. I was sitting on the back of this pickup truck, zooming through the African landscape, with the wind blowing through my hair. I felt so free and so at home here. I mean, when I thought about coming to Africa, these are the kinds of things I had in mind. Children chased after us as we passed through their little villages comprised of little, unevenly spaced huts, we narrowly avoided hitting people trying to transport ridiculous things like mattresses on bicycles, and we passed through palm tree plantations pressed against a mountainous backdrop. For me, it was perfect. Tyler, on the other hand, had a much more realistic perspective. With each bump, he held on more tightly and even considered getting out because he, very accurately, felt unsafe.

I was too busy living out a scene from some sort of adventure movie where some pretentious kid goes to Africa after college “to find himself” to be concerned by the apparent danger so I implored Tyler to just give it a little more time before we would stop and get out. Once the paved road ended, we slowed down quite a bit, and Tyler grew more comfortable so we pressed on as the sun ascended towards the top of the sky and the heat became oppressive. After about two hours, the novelty of the whole adventure began to wear off. With each bump that we sped over, my butt, which has less padding than usual thanks to my diet of mostly just rice with beans or sautéed greens, slammed into the tailgate. I had to hang on to the edges to avoid falling, but the metal got so hot that my palms got covered with burns and blisters. Each bump also caused the bucket of fish resting on my leg to jump and slam down on my foot, splashing fish-water everywhere in the process.

Every time I got jostled from flying over the protruding rocks and giant potholes in the road, my shorts rode up a bit higher. I was wearing sunscreen, but not above my knees so I quickly felt my legs start to burn. They burned and burned for six hours in the relentless sun, which pushed down on me until my asthma became a serious concern. After the fourth hour, our driver got sick of how long it was taking so he started going much faster. Every time I’d find a comfortable position, we’d hit something that would slam me back into the truck, and that position would no longer be comfortable. My backside was in so much pain that I began to sit in a sort of crab position, putting weight on my hands and feet in order to take the stress off of my butt. The truck was so crowded, though, that my arms and legs were contorted at weird angles, meaning that putting weight on them for so long made my wrists, shoulders, hips, and knees feel some of the most excruciating pain I’ve ever felt.

After six hours, we finally made it to Nampula City and caught a cab to a hostel. Luckily they had nice bathrooms with running water so I went immediately to clean off all the dust coating my body and to evaluate the damage. Now I know lately it has become popular to misuse the word “literally,” but my butt was LITERALLY covered in bruises. It looked like a baseball player (or a certain Vikings player) went to town on me with a Louisville Slugger (or a tree branch), my thighs resembled the dark red against pale white of the Polish flag, and it took four times of scrubbing myself to get the dust off, but I lived. Now I know what I have to look forward to these next two years.

PS sorry Mom. I’ll wear sunscreen next time.