“Tea” with a Side of Sugar

IMG_5028Coming to Mozambique, I had no idea how central tea was going to be to my life, and days like today are when it becomes more apparent. Days like today are days for reflection; days where everything is quiet: no music, no kids running around, and only the tip tap of the rain hitting its puddles. Days like today allow me to reflect on how teatime went from a thought of Victorian era dress with crumpets and teacakes to laughing with my community members.

Flashback to the first day of training…

With butterflies in our stomachs, we unloaded from our bus to a chilled hiss of rain coming down to this new home. Eyes wide and goosebumps all over, we walked into a memory. Drum beats and sweet songs filled the air as we searched to find our new family. Living in the moment with nothing to prepare us for this, we embraced our new families.

Clueless and lost, I followed my sister hand-in-hand to our house. Not wanting to just walk in silence we tried to muster any conversation we could in Portuguese; when all failed we started singing one through ten with our arms swinging back and forth. Then I was there. Home.

My House During Training

My House During Training

The rest of my family welcomed me in, and I was sat in a chair. “Tomar chá? Tomar chá?” my host mother kept repeating to me. I looked around the room for help, and then proceeded to nod out of confusion. Everyone started to move around me, and as I tried to get up, I felt hands on my shoulders push me down. “Okay. Not moving,” I thought to myself.

Moments later a steaming cup of tea was laid before me. After lifting up the cup, the steam spread across my face as a calming blow left from my mouth. After a day in the rain, this was the needed warmth. After a day of confusion, this put my mind at ease. After a day of miscommunication, this allowed for a welcoming silence. As I sat there enjoying my tea, as I would learn to do at least twice a day during training, I started to understand how blended teatime and Mozambican culture have become.

Flashback to being dropped off at site for the first time…

With nerves at an all time high, we were loaded into the car after dropping off my closest fellow Americans. I didn’t know what was before me or how far away my new home was going to be, but there was only one way to go.

Through the five hours of floating in and out of consciousness to my site, the anxiety turned into a blissful peace. The peace settled in as we wound through the mountains; we caught glimpses of small communities and tea fields. I reminisced on all precious teatime moments with my family and neighbors in training. Any doubts floated away as I remembered the comfort of a fresh batch of tea, the company of the people around, and how each teatime led to deepening relations with the people around me.

Tea Fields Near My House

Tea Fields Near My House

Flashback to tea at someone’s house…

After the first couple of weeks of wandering around like a lost puppy, people started to realize I wasn’t going anywhere. And when they realize you’re not going anywhere, they welcome you with open arms, literally; hugs every five meters. What comes next are an overflowing series of invitations: “Will you come over to my house?”; “I want to show you my life and become best friends.”; “Come meet my daughter.”. The last comment may have had some hidden intentions, but all seemed equally enthused to have the new person in the community come to their house.

Before going to the first house, my nerves were everywhere. “What do I say?”; “Am I going to be able to keep conversation flowing with my Portuguese?”; “What are we even going to do?”. My thoughts were racing, so I cranked up the Space Jam Soundtrack and jumped around singing around my house. “Shake out the nerves Thomas. Shake ‘em out,” I told myself. I slipped on my shoes and headed out my door hyped-up, nerve ridden, and ready to talk about anything, and when I entered the house, any hint of nerves left immediately vanished.

The table was set for tea. This was perfect.

I sat down and was ready. I had been through this before with my host family – the perfect blend of conversation, silence, and the comfort of a warm cup of tea.

As the sugar was passed around the table, people were scooping countless heaps into their cup. As the sugar finally came around to me, I scooped in my usual amount. Before I could pass it along, confused eyes stared back at me. “No take more. Take more,” they insisted. Not wanting to overpower the tea, I poured one more teaspoon in. “Ohhhhhh. You don’t understand,” someone let out.

“Wait what?” confused, I muttered.

“We don’t use leaves in our tea. The leaves are too expensive, so we just use sugar and water. That’s how we do tea.”

Others around the table looked confused. One person decided to chime in.

“What? There are supposed to be leaves in tea? What do you call it when there are leaves in the tea? What is it supposed to be called how we drink it? What do these leaves look like?” and the questions rattled on.

Silently, I leaned back and listened in on the conversation about the different between “proper” tea and tea defined by Mozambique’s standards. My friends around the table did not know the word chá (tea in English) consisted of anything beyond hot water and sugar. The cultural exchanged that ensued was eye opening.

The poverty around Mozambique has changed the vocabulary of the people in country. Although tea fields surround where I live and many other places in Mozambique, the people did not see the connection between the plants and the drink that share the same name. This disconnect allowed for an opportunity to have a cultural exchange in a calm and welcoming environment of teatime.

As we sat around that table for a couple of hours drinking our “tea”, I realized how easy this was. They welcomed me, the cultural exchange was fluid, and I felt at home.

As I reflect on these moments watching the rainfall off my veranda, I can’t help to be comforted by the experiences and opportunities I’ve had just with a cup of “tea” and a side of sugar.

Death is Different

That sound. As the cry becomes more pronounced, it progresses from a murmur to wail. The sound registers in my head: “I’ve heard this before.” This is the sound that occasionally echoes outside the hospital and lingers in the hearts of people close by. It’s the sound that is synonymous with death. However that night was different. The murmur of one turned into the cry of the community.

Looking out my window, I saw my neighbor collapse to her knees as tears uncontrollably fell from her face. Her body throbbed as her sobbing took control. This loss is different.

Racking my brain for the difference, I reflected on previous loss in the community. Mothers losing their child, losing their baby, losing the one with so much life ahead of them. There was lament. There were tears. There was community support, but there was not this hopeless loss of everything.

In the morning, I went to check in on my neighbors. Approaching the house, I caught a glimpse of how the loss still waged on. Puffy eyed, sluggish, and disconnected, she was monotonously doing the morning cleaning; the weight of the death carried on.

“Laura. Good morning. How are you doing today?” I managed as I approached the woman ready to fall apart again.

“I’m sad.” She managed to choke out.

Before getting ready to go over to her house I reflected on the image of the night before; however, I was not ready for this statement. Not once have I heard someone in Mozambique say that they are sad, just being okay gives people enough concern.

I approached the next few lines with caution.

“Oh no. I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do?”

Keeping her eyes fixed on the ground she whispered, “No Thomas no. There’s nothing anyone can do.”

Not knowing where to go with the conversation, I asked the question I feared the answer to, “What happened?”

Taking a deep sigh she managed to whisper such a simple but powerful statement. “He died.”

As she slowly squeezed it out she lifted her head to look at me. Eyes red and tears streaming down her weathered face, she couldn’t contain herself any longer. The scene from the previous night made its second appearance.

After a long embrace, we took a seat. Through silence, tears, and periodic talking, the story came out. The man, the oldest man in the community, died at the age of 106.

Not realizing the impact of the elderly in the community, I took a mental step back. A 106-year-old man has this much effect on a community? What did he do? Isn’t it pleasant that he died in his sleep? He lived a full life and was ready to die, right?

Little did I know how engrained my Western view of death was. Traditionally in the States, the loss of a child is heartbreaking because the missed opportunity of the life before him or her, and an older person dying in their sleep is peaceful and eliminates any suffering that they may have had. We focus on the future. Death is different here.

People here celebrate the past; history is what defines them as a people, and they rejoice knowing their mutual history. In their mind, a child had little to no history on the Earth; therefore they unfortunately did not have a chance to contribute to the future of their people. On the other hand someone that had lived many years has experiences that go beyond the minds of much of the community. They hold secrets, legends, and insight into the past that go beyond the masses. In a community where oral history dominates, this man was the gatekeeper.

He told stories of Mozambique under colonial rule, the War for Independence, the Mozambican Civil War, and how this community survived through everything. This man held more knowledge about my community than any history book, and now it is gone.

My neighbor, Laura, was beside herself because someone died, yes. But more than that, she lost a part of her when this man passed. She lost a bit of something that defined her. She lost a bit of her community. She lost a bit of her past.

Moments like these require proper reflection. Moments like these humble you with the little time that you have experienced on the earth. Moments like these make you want to go out and here people’s stories. Everyone has something unique to offer, and it’s about time we go out there and discover the past that has been around us just waiting in the memories of our neighbors. It’s time to go out and create a history for the future.IMG_3829

Mountain Climbing in Milange

Sitting at the foothills of the mountains, I stare at upward everyday in awe. “I will conquer you one day,” I tell the mountains as I look upward. The opportunity was always there, but it was a matter of committing and finding people to go with. My neighbors rejected my suggestion to go up the mountains because of all of the local legends: “leopards line the mountains”, “the hills are cursed”, and my personal favorite “gnomes live at the top of the mountain and kill people”.

Mountain in Town

Mountain in Town

Apparently not everyone is terrified. A local missionary had rallied a group of boys in the community to hike up the mountain and stay the night. Unbeknownst to him, he filled my dream to climb the mountain when he asked me to accompany them on the trek. Little did I know what was laid before me.

15:00 rolled around, and we drove up to the highest point that we could reach; smiles and eagerness spread across our face. We were ready. Ready for the unknown. Ready for the hike. Ready for the memories that lay in front of us.

Before the Journey

Before the Journey

Gardens, flowerbeds, and houses pass as we journeyed into the jungle. The path tapered off as we entered areas of grass reaching beyond our heads. Knowing the only way was upward, João, one of the youths, led us onward. Having never been hiking before, he did not understand the significance of switchbacks, so we carved a straight path up the mountain.

Having done some backpacking and hiking back in the States, I would look up the mountain and see the path cutting up the mountains with switchbacks. “Wouldn’t it be easier to just climb straight up?” I always thought to myself.

Flashback to the hike and the answer becomes abundantly clear. No. Climbing straight up a mountain makes the experience exponentially more difficult. After being out of breath and only an hour into the hike, we turned around, collapsed, and appreciated the town behind us. After looking off into the horizon, we looked down at ourselves. Cuts, dirt, and sweat lined our body after our exploration into the jungle. After fighting through weeds, stumps, and vines along the way, our bodies had taken a beating, but there was plenty more in us.

Kobus, the youth leader, led out the cry of a new song, and we knew it was time to journey on. A new leader popped up willing to lead the charge further up the mountain. He whipped out a dull, rusty kitchen knife that he claimed will be able to cut through the vines and create a path perfect for the group. After five minutes into the bush, the knife was abandoned due to false advertisement. Nonetheless we carried on; through rock climbing, bouldering, and rock scrambling, we attacked the mountain. As the sun began to seek cover behind our desired peak, we waited for the moonlight to show its face.

Laughter, chatter, and selfies filled the air we waited for the moonlight to be our guiding force. Fortunately for us, the moon did not disappoint and was as full as ever.

Moonlight Selfie

Moonlight Selfie

Hiking by moonlight was a new rush; we didn’t know where our foot was going to land. After four more hours of hiking, we escaped the vines and thorns. A new grassland laid upon us and we could finally see the summit. Delighted and defeated, the missionaries were ready to set up camp; however, the Mozambicans would not quit until they summited, so we continued on.

An hour later, we had made it. Of course similar to any other other type of celebration, we had a photo-shoot to commiserate the long journey getting there.

After the stir had wound down, we set up camp and started the fire to make dinner. Through the cooking process, we admired the beauty of the town below. A batch of concentrated lights and an expanse of land outside of it exposed the isolation our town faced. After admiring and trying to find our houses, we sat down to feast. A meal of chicken, French fries, salad, and juice filled our empty stomachs after the long hike. Through digestion, we talked, joked, and slowly trickled into our tents for the night.

We awoke to the light of a fresh dawn and entered the world with a stretch and a smile. In awe of the bucolic nature around us, we opened our eyes to the beauty of our home. With Mount Mulanje on one side and our town on the other, we were humbled by our minor nature on this magnificent earth.

After taking in all that we could, we began to prepare for the dissension. Unanimously deciding to not put ourselves through the same route, we ventured down the mountain with a path undiscovered. Covered by a fresh morning’s dew, the grass lead to more slipping, falling, and tumbling than a silent film. Having a good since of humor about the stumbling, we laughed our way down the mountain.

Through the more scenic trail, we discovered rivers, tea gardens, and waterfalls lining the path. After a six-hour trek of uninterrupted beauty we arrived back in town looking like the mountain men that we were.

Group Shot on Top

Group Shot on Top

Labor Day Celebrations

Labor Day or Dia dos trabalhadores” is celebrated on 1 May every year. Everything was cancelled: school, work, and banks. If this was a big enough day to have everything canceled it must have a celebration to go along with it; no big holiday goes without a celebration in Mozambique. I was not disappointed.

After getting ready for the day, I grabbed my camera and headed to the only main street in town. Disappointment spread across my fixed smile as I looked upon an empty road. Before I turned back around, a float drove by me and restored my hope in the day. My power walk kicked into sixth gear as I followed the float. As we came around the bend, I couldn’t believe it. Cars, people, and floats all lined up along the road for a big celebration.IMG_2762

Intricate floats lined the road. Some simple designs decorated with smiling faces and others giving a sneak peak into the daily life of the profession.

After looking at all the floats I had a clear favorite. What’s yours?

Beginning of the parade

Beginning of the parade

HospitalThe Hospital – Here presenting its range of capabilities, the hospital is showing patient care and a different surgery on the other side of the drape. The hospital sits on top of the main hill in Milange, and is designed as a rural hospital. It has some of the necessary equipment, but the hospital in Blantyre is the closest one that many would want to go to.

ChurchIgreja Reformada de Moçambique – The church has many projects throughout the community. Many of the missionaries from the community are here through this church. Freek, man with blond hair and glasses, is a doctor at the local hospital. Kim, to the right, partners with the hospital for community and health outreach projects. Niehan and Carmen, waving on the left, are in charge of a literacy project aimed at rural schools.


Fire Engine – This was the first time the firemen were seen in town, and they were showing off their new toy. Not entirely sure how useful they will be considering houses will never burn or burn down long before they could arrive. Hopefully this truck will never have to actually be put into use.

Teaching a class

Teaching a class

Primary school – One of the primary schools in town. During the parade, they were giving a mock lesson equipped with a desks, students, a teacher, and a blackboard (not shown in the picture). If only this fully represented a classroom in Mozambique.

RoadSurveyors – These people help out with the road construction. Their presence in town is hard to come by; however, you can see many of them along the road that is currently being worked on.

Salon2The Salon – Everyone likes to look good here in Mozambique, so if you are feeling like a new hairdo, this is the place to go.

Demonstrating handpump

Demonstrating handpump

The Center for Public Works – Demonstrating a hand pump in the back of a truck, they advocate for water security and availability in Milange.

ConstructionRoad Construction Company – Consisting of half of the parade by showing off their large machinery, the road construction company is supposed to be paving a road to the nearest large city in Mozambique. Funded by the EU and run by the Portuguese, this company has led to a large increase in the economy in Milange.

Alcohol3Olivera Commercial – One of the many places owned by Mr. Olivera, this store is in charge of the liquor for the town. This float was one of the more lively on the parade. Maybe they had a little pre-parade celebration.

Vacination2The Agriculture School – They teach farming and agriculture techniques: growing vegetables and other types of produce. They seem to have a new program related to animal vaccinations. We are still unsure what ended up happening to the dog on the float.


ESPANOR – One of the local NGOs that specializes in adult and child education. They have a preschool, university, and a variety of programs including English lessons, agriculture techniques, IT programming, and clothes designing. This is one of the organizations I help out with.

BuildersHardware Store – Representing one of the biggest hardware stores in town. The store imports many of its materials and has the largest selection of goods for the local handyman.


The Tailor – Not entirely sure where all of these tailors are concentrated, but Milange has a variety of tailors that will do anything from fix a ripped patch of clothing to creating an entirely new shirt out of capalana. The tailors are convenient if you happen to lose some weight over your stay in Mozambique.

The Crowd

The Crowd

After the parade, everyone piled into the sports complex. Here we saw plenty of dancing, music, presentations, and medical consultations. The hospital didn’t fully take a day off by offering a blood donation center at the edge of the party. There was a constant feeling of joy in the air, and all were there to have a good time.



Show Me The Money

Currency is a reflection of culture, and culture helps to reflect the values of the country. As far as Mozambique is concerned, it has an expansive history and cultural variety from Makua to Changana. However, Mozambique tends to be a country looking toward the future, and this future thinking is shown in their money. With only one person on all the bills and a concentration of animals on all of the currency, Mozambique does not want to reflect on the violent history of the revolution or the civil war.

The man on the money: Samora Moisés Machel. The first of the few presidents since the time of the war. His claim to fame began when he expelled the Portuguese from Mozambique to relieve the country from colonization and oppression. Although Mozambique dropped to one of the poorest country in the world under his reign, he is revered as a hero in the hearts of many Mozambicans.

The 20 MT ($0.57) is the smallest bill on the Mozambican market. On the back sits a picture of a rhino. However, the rinho is now ironic; with the last rhino in Mozambique killed in 2013, this current photo reflects a better time.

Disclaimer: This was not the original purpose of the picture. The currency came out in 2006 when there were still rhinos.

The animal represented on the 50 MT ($1.43) banknote is the kudus. The kudu is similar to an antelope and roams around Mozambique. Traditionally the horns of the animal have been used to make a musical instrument. This instrument has inspired any other types of noise makers. More recently it has inspired the vuvuzela; the vuvuzela was the noise maker during the South African World Cup that continually was blaring.

Giraffes! Giraffes are represented on the 100 MT ($2.86) banknote and are all around Mozambique. Well maybe not roaming in my back yard, but if you really want to find a giraffe, you can go out into the middle of the bush to see one; someone in your community may be willing to help you out. If going out into the middle of nowhere is not your cup of tea, you can go to any one of the national parks and see giraffes in their natural habitat.

The 200 MT ($5.71) banknote shows the lions that roam around Mozambique. People in my community tell stories of lions that would turn anybody’s ear. Lions are revered and feared throughout Mozambique, and Mozambicans respect the danger that comes with them.

Located on the back of the 500 MT ($14.29) banknote is the mighty buffalo. The buffalo are one of the four Big 5 animals located on the Mozambican bills. Can you name the others?

The powerful elephant is located on the 1000 MT ($28.57) banknote. The elephants are definitely a sight worth seeing in Mozambique. Unfortunately as Mozambique has slowly started to develop, it has displaced some elephants from where they have roamed for many years. However if you go up to the Niassa Reserve, you are surely not to be disappointed with the ones roaming around up there.


Coins of Mozambique

Coins are nothing to scoff at in Mozambique; unlike pennies, nickels, or dimes in American, coins have purchasing power in Mozambique. On top of being able to buy things with coins, it is often necessary for change. Also some restaurants or other establishments do not have the proper change on hand. Therefore, in order to save a little bit here and there, it is always necessary to have a little jingle in your pocket.

The 50 Centavos coin equates to $0.01. This coin is used so little that I forgot to include it in the original draft. On the front is the kingfisher bird; one of the many birds that sour above Mozambique. The diversity of birds in Mozambique has inspired some Peace Corps Volunteers to take up a bit of ornithology. Maybe looking at the coin long enough will inspire others as well.

The 1 Meticail ($0.03) shows a female student studying. Long before Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative, Mozambique has been aiming for more equality in the education system. Although this process is slow coming and has much more work to go, the constant reminder on the coin is valuable for all people around.

The 2 Meticais ($0.06) coin reflects on the fishing industry; it is one of the biggest industries in Mozambique. Although the Chinese bought most of the fishing rights, Mozambique still stands beside the fact that it produces a good catch.

The 5 Meticais ($0.14) coin displays a xylophone. Music is constant in Mozambique. From waking people up in the morning to keeping them up at night, music does not stop here. People gather around, laugh, and dance all throughout the day. In towns with power, most of the music is now played on speakers. However, most traditional music played during ceremonies is almost always exclusively xylophone and drums.

The 10 Meticais ($0.29) coin gives a picture of the headquarters of the Banco de Moçambique. Mozambicans take pride in their infrastructure, and Mozambican currency wouldn’t be the same unless it showed off its bank’s infrastructure.

Mozambique is a growing country, and the currency will begin to diverse with time. In the meantime, I’m doing fine with my multi-colored Samora Micheles in my pocket and couple of coins rattling around.