Today makes six moths since I arrived in my beautiful new country of Mozambique. Getting on the plane to Africa, seeing my family for the last time, and eating my last Chipotle burrito feel like memories deep in the back of my mind. Unlocking these memories is like remembering someone you have lost; you can remember the joy mixed with sadness as if they are just too far for you to reach out and touch; they are close enough to remember but far enough to not be able to feel again. However, fortunately for me, those memories won’t always feel like a lifetime away. As I sit down to write, I reflect on how naïve I was and what I have learned.
These months have been some of the most challenging and rewarding times. My growth has expanded past my beard and hair, but Mozambique has opened my eyes to many things. Here are just a few of the many lessons I have learned during my stay so far.
First Group Picture in Mozambique
1. Being on time doesn’t matter as much as being there
Nothing starts on time here. Nothing. Commonly referred to as Mozambican time by Peace Corps Volunteers, meetings that start an hour or two late are often deemed as occurring on time. During my first couple months at site it frustrated me. However, I was prepared for it; we had gone over it in training, but it doesn’t sink in till you’ve been sitting underneath a mango tree sweating for the past two hours, and after two hours they arrive without excuse.
During training, the staff shared a little bit about this thought process by explaining the difference between a to be culture and a to do culture. What it boils down to is the priority someone puts on individual things. To be culture puts more value of relationships, and to do culture puts more value on productivity: Mozambique tips the scale on the to be side. People will not trust you, do business with you, or listen to your thoughts for progress without meeting their family, spending time with them, and winning them over. The days of walking into a meeting and collaborating on a mutually beneficial project with people you have never me before are nonexistent here.
This integration takes time here, but the price of getting to know the people around you and going through life with them is invaluable.
My Host Family Mom and Me
2. Development takes time, especially more than two years
Development has to start with a grassroots approach, and this approach begins through relationships. I’ve becomes friends with people here in unique ways: music video shoots, hitchhiking, and karate clubs. In order to understand the needs of the entire community you have to get a holistic approach; that includes the farmers to the mayors. Instead of the grassroots approach, traditional development is run through a top down structure; this top down structure runs through the government and allows the government to control the funding. This approach is a catalyst to increased corruption.
When development workers work in the field for a smaller time and ask the people in the community their needs, it usually turns up to be a shallow request. Not until you spend time with these people do the things that plague them begin to be exposed. In Mozambique and many developing countries these problems aren’t heard in a meeting; they are heard during morning tea, washing clothes together, or just hanging out in the closest shaded area talking about the day.
These relationships take time, and I am fortunate enough to have built some lasting relationships here. However when I tell someone that I am only here for two years, his head sinks because he knows that I will not be able to make a radical change myself.
It boils down to the fact that development takes many years, and I will not be here for it. However, my role is to establish and access the true needs of the community, inspire people to take action, and support the development until they can sustain it on their own. That is how proper development is run over an extended period of time.
After I Helped Shoot A Music Video
3. Life is short
Life is short. Adventure. Travel. See new sites. While I recommend these catchy lines and inspirational phrases, it is not where I’m going with this topic.
Just in my short six months here, I have know more people die and been to more funerals than all of my time in the States. Death is something that is so much more prevalent in developing countries, and the value of life doesn’t really hit you until you look at death head on. It doesn’t hit you until you come home, and your friend comes to tell you that he won’t be there tonight because his teenage child died today. Moments like these make you take a step back, analyze life, and appreciate the value of life.
First diseased person I saw in Mozambique. On the cart on the far right. Didn’t know it when I took the picture
4. You can’t find yourself unless you’re truly by yourself
During the first couple of months at site, my only job was to integrate into the community. I worked hard on this, but I did not realize how much free time and alone time I would have. When you are truly alone you put aside all the nonsense, you stop lying to yourself, and you finally become the person you are or want to be. It’s hard to realize other’s effect on you when are still around people.
Unfortunately for some people they do not like themselves when they strip everything away. One fellow volunteer and I had many conversations about how she did not know what to do and was going crazy. She had always been someone that thrived off of people around her. She wasn’t ready to be alone, but she jumped in headfirst. She, like many other people when they are alone, had one of the largest growing and self-reflective periods of her life. On the other had, some people just find out or are reassured how weird they are. I was one of those people; the number of strange photos and goofy selfies I took was obscene.
Sister told me I was old on my birthday, so I sent her this back to prove it. One of the many strange selfies
5. Friends come and go
Many people logically know this to be true. However, it becomes so much clearer when someone moves away. Moving across the globe opens up your eyes to the value your friends and the amount that is put into the relationship by each party. Some people just fall off the map.
I know. I know. Some of you are defending yourself as you read this: “I’m not good at keeping in touch”, “I didn’t know I could get in contact with you”, or “oh, I’ve been really busy”. Through all of the noise, we get to the truth of the matter. There are those people that are important enough to keep in touch with even when it’s not convenient, and there are people where it is not important enough. Friendships are two-sided and not always easy; so if you want to keep a friend, work for it.
Before I finish this lament, I want to reiterate something that I have heard from other volunteers, missionaries, and people living abroad: just because we are no longer a drive away doesn’t mean that we’re dead. The simplest thing can make our day.
So if you’re thinking about someone whom you’ve been meaning to contact or someone you haven’t talked to for a while, shoot him or her a text, Facebook message, call, or write an old fashion letter. If nothing else, just let them know that you’re thinking about them. Believe me, it will make their day.
Packages are always a welcome surprise too. Warning: Different address now if you’re doing the Postcard Project
6. Language defines culture
Although Mozambique’s official language is Portuguese, it is not the defining language. Mozambique, like many African countries, has many local languages that truly outline the culture and heritage of the people living in the area. People often refer to people by their cultural heritage in country; Changana person or Makua person are just a couple of examples in Mozambique.
Learning the local language is key to unlocking societal norms. The emphasis of certain words can show the importance of the word in the culture. In addition, understanding the language can make for fuller experience in church services, weddings, and funerals – all performed in the local languages.
Besides, nothing feels better than seeing the excitement that comes across a person’s face when you speak to them in their mother tongue.
Getting a cultural lesson
All of these are just a little lessons that I have learned since being here. I have so much to learn to. Also, other things have changed too.
Off the plane in Philadelphia to right outside as I finished writing the post